ZuBlu: Adam Broadbent - the champion for sustainable ocean tourism
Updated: Mar 27
How did you get started scuba diving, and how did you get the idea for ZuBlu?
Adam: I took a bit of time out before university and ended up in Madagascar on a sort of volunteering research scheme. The Madagascar government was trying to identify an area that they would protect, a big biosphere region. So, we went out and learned to scuba dive so that we could do reef surveys, mangrove surveys, and things like that, to give that data to the government to make decisions. That's where I first learned to scuba dive, and I fell in love with it very quickly. I also turned out to not be too bad at photography.
From there, I was introduced to a company in Malaysia called Scubazoo, a professional underwater production company that worked with the likes of the BBC and National Geographic, specializing in underwater sequences and storytelling. So rather than going to university I ended up taking a job in Malaysia and what was meant to be one year out quickly became six! I was very fortunate to dive and travel all over Asia for six years and see all of the underwater highlights that it had to offer. Not only did we work with production companies, but we also worked with luxury hotels, with conservation organizations, so I got a full spectrum of seeing how people looked at and interacted with the ocean.
It was on those travels that I met lots of other scuba divers or ocean lovers, and other people who saw my photos published somewhere, and I'd always get the same questions: “Where do you see that particular marine life?” “Where do you see manta rays?” “What's the best time of year to go?” “Who do you recommend diving with?” “Who do you recommend staying with?” It became very apparent to me that in terms of ocean experiences, there wasn't a travel solution for people wanting to experience 70% of our planet, which was a strange realization. The likes of Booking.com or Airbnb are not focused on the key questions for someone who wants to go have an amazing encounter with marine life. This became the genesis of creating ZuBlu, a travel platform for the oceans.
However, I didn't have all of the skill sets I wanted, so I ended up going back to the UK into the financial services industry for a while. I worked as a sort of right-hand man for a CEO and he threw me at all different projects from marketing to building back-end trading systems to rebranding organizations to operational improvements. Basically, it was like a little masters in entrepreneurship.
After a few years of that, I felt confident to start my own thing. I came back to Asia in 2017, met up with my co-founder, Matthew, who I had worked with previously for the production company, and started ZuBlu.
A key differential for us is having been in destinations across Asia. We see the impact tourism can have for good but also for bad in terms of how we engage with the ocean. Therefore, a big goal of ours was to try to be very careful with who we partner with and who we book our guests with, to help people make positive travel choices.
Why do you think that sustainable tourism is important?
Adam: There's different areas within ocean travel, and sustainability needs to be considered in different ways. In very popular areas, where there's a huge number of tourists, the behavior of the operators and how they manage the volume of people in the water needs to be very carefully considered so that we're not damaging reefs or impacting marine animals and their lifecycles. There’s a responsibility to protect environments that are very popular.
On the other side, in areas that are more remote, marine tourism can be an extremely positive thing for the economy. You're going out to far flung destinations where traditionally, local communities are finding income from fishing. Generally, that's not well managed and not well considered, and they're taking big megafauna species out of the water. When well-managed tourism comes in, it can provide a lot of job opportunities and alternative income sources while still protecting the marine biodiversity of that region.
Sustainable tourism not only creates livelihood opportunities, but also increases awareness about how much of the population live on the coastline in the world, how exposed we are, and how important all of these ecosystems are, as a whole and in terms of how reefs and mangroves protect coastline. If these aren't looked after and managed then there are millions of people that are exposed to the dangers of rising sea levels or just poor coastal management that results in loss of marine life, biodiversity and fish stocks that those communities rely on.
How does ZuBlu enable sustainable travel?
Adam: We are quite selective in terms of the quality of liveaboards, resorts, partners that we on board our platform. The ZuBlu team has an enormous amount of diving experience and has visited most of the resorts or boats on the platform firsthand. We know the owners, the property managers, and partners firsthand and know whether they adopt sustainable operating practices. Furthermore, we also encourage our partners to become Green Fins members and adopt even more sustainable practices.
What are you looking forward to?
Adam: The last few years have been very challenging with COVID and the travel restrictions. We experienced significant setbacks in our revenue projections, but we were able to focus on building up our platform and our portfolio.
We’ve expanded from about 20 destinations to over 100 and from about 100 resorts and boats to now over 800. Now with travel coming back, our focus is really on helping our guests to have amazing ocean experiences. A lot of my work is just engaging people, understanding their wishes, being more creative with the opportunities we can provide, and being more tailored and personalized with the experiences we can offer.
As that happens, we'll start adding more and more destinations. We've got ideas for the Arctic and Antarctica. And then more features that improve either the holiday experience or the booking experience for guests as well.
Why did Mana Impact invest in ZuBlu?
Patti: We’ve always been impressed by the team’s extensive industry knowledge, business experience, focus on impact and a passion for protecting marine ecosystems. The fact that they have been able to survive COVID as an early-stage travel company just says it all about their characters, drive and perseverance.
We also believe that ZuBlu is addressing a gap in the market and have a strong moat given their deep knowledge and extensive network. We are very excited to see how ZuBlu can play a major role in enabling sustainable travel to support conservation of coastal and marine ecosystems.
This interview has been edited and condensed.