Triton Submarines braces for next wave of experiential tourism
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Triton Submarines braces for next wave of experiential tourism

Triton Submarines braces for next wave of experiential tourism

With underwater tourism set to become the next big frontier in “experiential tourism”, recreational sub manufacturers like Florida-based Triton Submarines are gearing up with state-of-the-art vessels

Triton Submarine

The Five Deeps Expedition, which concluded in August last year, had an impressive mandate.

It successfully undertook manned expeditions to the bottoms of the world’s five oceans including the Puerto Rico Trench (Atlantic Ocean), Java Trench (Indian Ocean), Molloy Deep (Arctic Ocean), South Sandwich Trench (Southern Ocean) and the Challenger Deep (Pacific Ocean).

Those death-defying descents were undertaken by intrepid adventurer and American businessman Victor Vescovo who used his $37m two-seater personal submersible, a Triton 36,000/2 sub christened Limiting Factor, which is the world’s first certified full ocean depth submersible constructed using a titanium hull and rated to dive to depths of up to 11,000 metres.

What sort of an engineering daredevilry does it take to build such a sub?

“The pressure on the personnel capsule – 16,000 pounds per square inch, at the bottom of Challenger Deep – is equivalent to a stack of 292 fully-loaded 747s,” L.Bruce Jones, the CEO and co-founder of the Florida-headquartered Triton Submarines, told Gulf Business.

Jones along with Patrick Lahey co-founded the privately-held company 12 years ago at a time when, as Jones says, they “realised there was a distinct market for smaller, deep-diving luxury submersibles.”

The company has around 50 employees spread across two locations – one in Florida and the other in Barcelona.

On average, the team hand-builds less than 10 submersibles a year. Expectedly, they don’t come cheap.

The popular Triton 3300/3 which dives to 1,000 metres and carries three people, costs approximately $4m.

Its least-expensive personal sub meanwhile dives to 305 metres and costs $2.7m, while its most expensive sub in existence takes two people to 11,000 metres (Challenger Deep-levels) and is priced north of $30m.

Triton Submarine
The Triton 36,000/2 was used in the Five Deeps Expedition

While these deep-diving vessels can be used by researchers, filmmaking crews or even serve as vanity-soothing ego-inflating toys for the elite, there’s a bright – and yet untapped – burgeoning industry of underwater tourism, that Triton is set to tap with its latest multi-seater DeepView series of subs.

The first DeepView sub is set to be delivered later this year and will be able to dive to depths of 100 metres while carrying 24 passengers and 2 crew members. It features broad acrylic panels that allow for uninterrupted vistas of the surrounding water body.

“The Triton DeepView 24 is a revolutionary 4th-generation tourist sub designed to make up to 12 dives per day, including night dives, carrying 24 passengers. This is the first of the DeepView series, which includes subs that can carry as few as six passengers, or as many as 66,” explained Jones, adding that the delivery of the first $6.76m DeepView 24 is expected shortly to an undisclosed Vietnamese client who has ordered it for their portfolio of resorts.

A smaller, but deeper-diving tourism-focused sub is the $5.35m Triton 3300/6. The six-person submersible can descend to depths of 1,000 metres and features the largest acrylic pressure hull produced to date.

The Triton 1650/7 Configurable meanwhile is the world’s first single-hulled, 500-metre capable, seven-person submersible produced until now.

Triton is a familiar name here in the Middle East. It exhibits at the annual Dubai International Boat Show and has already made inroads in the region.

“One of our clients in Dubai owns a Triton 3300/3. We are negotiating with another group in the UAE as well,” revealed Jones.

Meanwhile, Vescovo and his team recently collaborated with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) to explore the deepest point of the Red Sea using Vescovo’s 36,000/2 sub.

Mohammed A. Aljahdli, a Saudi engineer and member of the KAUST Coastal and Marine Resources Core Lab, joined Vescovo to descend to the bottom of the Suakin Trough (2,777m) in the Red Sea, making Aljahdli the deepest-diving Saudi of all time.

Business for these luxury vessels hasn’t been greatly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, said Jones. The assembly teams are pressing on, while a few of the company’s marketing and sales personnel are now working from home.

“We continue to sign contracts and, in fact, just signed one today [April 20]. We are fortunate that our sales do not seem to be significantly affected by the pandemic.”

While a global economic slowdown is crystallizing, Triton is swimming against the current.

“We are in the process now of designing the deepest-diving acrylic-hulled sub ever produced, the DeepView 15,000/2,” said Jones of the sub which can carry two people to 4,570 metres, twice as deep as its current deepest-diving acrylic-hulled sub, the $6.65m Triton 7500/3, and 15 times deeper than any other sub in the market at the moment.

“We are also leveraging our experience with the Triton 36,000/2, which has a titanium hull and we intend to produce a new full ocean depth model, the Triton 36,000/3 GPH (glass pressure hull). This revolutionary sub will have a personnel sphere composed of high-pressure glass and will carry 3 people to 36,000 feet.” If you must ask, the price is $38.1m.

Understandably, a near-$40m price tag puts subs like this one in a billionaire’s field of vision.

Even for those not willing to make that commitment, there’s another way to explore the ocean floors. Vescovo has teamed up with EYOS Expeditions to offer underwater exploration trips for tourists. He will pilot his two-seater sub to some of the deepest underwater points in the world, with a tourist riding shotgun.

In May, there were two such tourist expeditions planned to the bottom of the Mariana Trench – one of which was already sold out at the time of going to press. At $750,000 a seat for the expedition, you’ll still have to be at least a millionaire to pay for it.

A much more affordable option will come when luxury ocean-side resorts begin to invest in subs like the DeepView 24, allowing residents of the properties to book a seat on these subs as part of the resort’s regular roster of leisure activities.

A game changer for the tourism industry.

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