23 December 2008

Maritime Laws Don't Govern River Rafting

At least in West Virginia.

The West Virginia state Supreme Court says federal maritime laws don’t govern activities involving West Virginia’s whitewater rafting industry. This stems from an accident on the Shenandoah River a few years ago, in which a party sued the rafting company for a mishap on the river.

This court decision could mean big things for the whitewater rafting industry int he US. This now sets the precedence for any future lawsuits against river rafting outfitters. Although all outfitters are required to be licensed and carry liability insurance, lawsuits stemming from death and/injury on the river still exist.

Hopefully this will add a bit more cover for the river rafting outfitters, who already do all they can to keep the guests safe and follow best practices when it comes to risk management and safety regulations.

10 November 2008

Augusta Trying for Rafting Park

Augusta, GA wants to push for their own whitewater rafting park as rafting travel picks up popularity across the U.S. Augusta city is joining the hoards of towns and cities we've already mentioned with plans to utilize canals, river and streams to turn around whitewater rafting parks.

The USNWC (US National Whitewater Center) seems to be holding ground currently, but is is a large center aimed at not only the local market, but professional paddlers and competitions. The verdict is yet to be determined as all the other areas across the nation try to tap into the popular sport. More updates as they open, and we will see where whitewater parks stand in a few years.

28 October 2008

Gauley Rafting Season Winds down

The 22-day Gauley Rafting season has winded down, and once again it has brought in close to $45 million to West Virginia and the outfitters. Although numbers have been on the decline since 2000, the last year have seen a slowing in the decline.

Hopefully that trend will at least hold steady. For many of the outfitters, Gauley river rafting makes or breaks the season. Amazing that in a matter of days, your season can be up or down. But when you can charge a premium (around $145 for a half-day trip) for some of the most exciting whitewater rafting in the world, it has the potential for making a lot of money.

The exact numbers are not in yet, but I will report some of them as soon as I get me hands on the info. It will also be interesting to see how some of the larger companies fare with all the mergers and consolidation in the West Virginia rafting industry.

21 August 2008

Grand Canyon Flooding

Clarification- the Grand Canyon did not flood.

The recent flash flood in the Grand Canyon has news agencies (surprise) reporting that the Grand Canyon was flooding. In actuality, a side canyon, Havasu got flash flooded by an earth dam that broke from the flash rain storms in the area.

Grand Canyon rafting trips were in the canyon at the time, and the only rafting trip affected by the flooding was a private boat trip that lost their rafts that were parked at the mouth of the flooded canyon. Western River Expeditions saw the raft without rafters and reported the incident to the park service.

All of the evacuations and emergency helicopter transfers related to the incident were the local tribe resident who lived along the Havasu Canyon and whose homes were threatened by the flash flood.


Hope that clears some of the questions up, and if you have any more, feel free to comment on this post and I can answer any of your inquiries!

22 July 2008

Outdoor Sports moving Indoors?

Along the same note of my last whitewater rafting park in KY post, I ran across another article recently, supporting the concept that many of the adventure sports will find counterparts in an indoor/manmade arena.

Jeff Coy on Hospitality.net brought in some interesting point regarding the growing trend of man-made adventure sports. Rafting parks, surf pools and hotel water parks are all the examples he brought to the table. I agree with the emerging trend, and to a degree I personally would like to try the surf pools and surfing wave walls.

However, Coy also says that "sporting enthusiasts say it is hard to get away from work at the right time. It is difficult and expensive to travel to the coast when the perfect ocean wave is breaking or reach the backwoods when the whitewater river is cresting..."

I see these indoor arenas and play areas as a complimentary service within the same industry, and not really a competative force with the true outdoor sport. You will never be able to compare a man-made rafting course with a Grand Canyon rafting trip, or the rush of huge whitewater on the Gauley River. And I don't think any of these "enthusiasts" are looking to replace the real experience with these indoor ones.

The trend of shorter vacations is real. So people looking for a real outdoor rafting trip will look for a 2 or 3 day trip, not a 6 or 7 day trip. The same hold true for skiing. An indoor ski slope acts as a great bunny hill. Man-made ski material in Europe allows skiier to practice even during the summer. But don't think for a second that they will fore-go the mountain slope for a dinky indoor arena.

So it becomes more a matter of vacation time, and less about indoor versus outdoor. Outdoor adventure providers should shift some of their inventory to reflect that of the short-vacation trends, but also support the introduction of the indoor arena, as that may be exactly what the outdoor industry needs; a good introduction to the real deal.

KY Whitewater Park In the Works

WKYT 27 reported recently that officials are considering a whitewater park at the Kentucky-Virginia lines in hopes to boost tourism in the state. Right now, Kentucky is basically void of any decent "river rafting" option (as is the case with most of the Midwest), so this may provide an opportunity for not only the Kentucky residents, but neighboring states as well.

I assume that would be the main focus when officials say "tourism", because I doubt visitors would make a special trip to Kentucky just for a whitewater rafting park. Plus, you have the US national whitewater center down in NC, and a few others across the East.

I would venture to say the most business would still be the local market (at least for the near future). When I was talking to one of the Marketing Directors at the USNWC a couple years ago when they first opened, he told us that their visitors and target market were Charlotte and Atlanta, both legitimate population centers nearest the center.

So a tourism boost? Possible, but the more realistic expectation would be to give the locals of KY and VA something to do.

13 June 2008

Rafting Article in USA Today

USA Today ran a good article about white water rafting and the snow levels across the country. Laura Bly did a great job at talking to the right people and getting the facts on what is really happening across the nation.

The article was along the same tune as my last post, talking about how winter snow and water has various affects on outfitters across the nation. Overall, you find mixed reviews. Why? Not just the reasons I pointed out in my winter snowpack post, but also because many rivers now are dam controlled.

So even drought conditions and water concerns has no immediate impact on some rafting regions (Southeast, Northeast, limited west coast). The problem is getting the conception that river rafting is directly correlated with water levels.

But overall, the rivers and reservoirs across the nation are looking good for the season. It will be interesting to see if gas prices have a negative affect on the season. So far I have gotten mixed reviews, some good, some o.k., some dont know. YTBD!

15 May 2008

High Snowpack- Always Good for Rafting?

The talk this season is of course the snowpack and water levels across the country. Global warming is obviously in full effect :) Most areas across the nation have experienced a good winter, which usually means that a good summer is to follow.

Good snow does not mean good river levels. Let me explain. We basically have two types of river-dependent factors to consider in the situation. Dam controlled rivers and natural flow rivers.

Earlier posts have talked about rivers across the nation changing over to dam controlled levels, in which certain river flows are guaranteed throughout the summer months. In general, good snow-pack and snow run-off are a good thing for dam controlled rivers. It means more water in the reservoir, and will continue to leave plenty of water flow throughout the coming years.

Natural flow rivers are a different story. Lets take a look at the Western U.S. as an example. The image here shows the current snow-pack levels across the various regions in the West. These numbers are a "percentage of normal", meaning that anything close to 100 is a very good thing, and anythin over 100 means higher-than-normal levels. Many locations that feed large rivers have over 100% snowpack for the season (still). But the weather still plays an important factor as to whether the snow will produce high, constant water levels or not.

Even with a good winter, if the weather heats up too fast, you run into flooding and fast run-off. So essentially, you would have a nice spring rafting season, followed by normal (or even below normal) water levels for the rest of the season. So it really still depends on mother nature and the transitional temperature from winter to spring to summer.

So remember that when the news reports a good winter, we still need to hold-on and see how the spring rolls out to accurately predict a good rafting season or not.

25 April 2008

Rafting Outfitters Merger in the East

Most of the rafting industry has heard about the mergers happening in West Virginia as of late. Two notable mergers have come about recently, due to business development and competitive strategy. Here are the two big changes:

1. Class VI, Adventures Mountain River, Riverman- This merger was quite interesting die to the fact that all three companies were/are good companies with steady business (comparatively). Numbers all across the board have been slumping, but each of these companies still kept their heads above water. So I would assume that this merger was in fact a business/competitive play in effort to try and take the lead for the rafting business in the area (notably from their direct competitor ACE Adventure Center).

The new company, Class Vi Mountain River, will now work to use the expertise and market niche of each individual company as a collective good to dominate the West Virginia rafting market. The three companies originally targeted different market segments to begin with, so the crossover in marketing would be fairly minimal and it seems like a good move for these three to get together.

2. ACE Adventure Resort, Wildwater Expeditions, Songer Whitewater and New River Gorge Adventures- Kind of a merger power move by the current West Virginia rafting market-share leader, ACE scooped up the partnership with a few other companies. Songer whitewater was well established and was decent sized. The other two companies were smaller and would make sense to move together with a larger organization to stay competative.

It will be interesting to see how these mergers play out. Often times you would think that there are too many outfitters in any given region/river, and West Virginia was one of those places. Nowhere near as crazy as Colorado on the Arkansas, but still too many from a consumer standpoint.

I think many areas and outfitters could possibly benefit from merging with strategic partners in their same region, if the numbers make sense. Most rivers will have multiple rafting outfitters, and only certain places restrict the number of outfitters that can operate on that portion of the river (Grand Canyon rafting trips are limited in space and with the number of outfitters that can operate)

29 February 2008

Saving the Rivers

Ran across a decent blog today. The american rivers blog has a good staff of constant bloggers talking mostly about river preservation and their efforts to clean up and protect rivers around the world.

I have not personally contacted them yet, but I think it is a good cause. Many organizations such as this sometimes view commercial outfitters and travel companies as "the foe" in their efforts to promote river. In fact, outfitters are (should) be some of the largest promoters of river preservations and conservation. I know that one of our partners, Western River Expeditions, is very involved in trying to find a way to make commercial trips have less of a "footprint" on the environment, one of which is the possibility of using electric power motors instead of gas or deisel.

In any matter, rafting is just another way to help people become aware of our environment and hopefully treat it well.

Kudos to american rivers.

01 February 2008

Some 2007 Rafting Success

Depending on which region of the country you look at, 2007 gave mixed results as far as the rafting industry as a whole. However, Maine claims a great year for all the whitewater rafting outfitters in the region.

According to Raft Maine association and a press release put out a few months ago, an increase of 4% on the Kennebec, 10% on the Penobscot and 16% on trips on the Dead River were reported by operating outfitters. "Raft Maine president Jim Murton credits the good season to a renewed commitment by Raft Maine member outfitters to joint marketing and co-operative efforts with the Maine Office of Tourism, Kennebec Valley Tourism Council, Maine Tourism Association and Maine's hospitality businesses and trade associations."

Good for them. The office of tourism and other government related organizations can provide a great boost for rafting outfitters across the country. From the sounds of things, it was a joint effort by all the businesses involved- from hotels to restaraunts. Good job of everyone working together to promote local tourism.

18 January 2008

Grand Canyon Rafting IMAX Film Coming

A new IMAX film called "Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk" will be debuting on March 14, 2008. The film takes a look at freash water preservation issues through a whitewater rafting trip down the Grand Canyon with O.A.R.S. rafting company. The file is presented by Teva, and has been year in the making.

They wanted to get the film out before World Water Day on March 22, 2008. MacGillivray Freeman Films picked up the production of the rafting and water video. They are one of the most experienced producers of special venue films in the world.

Should be interesting to see the whole movie. Not quite sure if it is a film focused more on the "whitewater rafting" adventure or throw in a political slant to the whole thing. Probably the latter of the two, since I sense some sort of green agenda (i have no problem in protection the river systems of the world, by the way.)

Interesting to see either way.

11 January 2008

Great Gifts and Presents

I read an article in the American Chronicle about memorable Christmas gifts over the holidays, and I thought about giving a rafting trip as a gift. Amazingly enough, the article actual recommends whitewater rafting as one of those "unforgettable gifts" if you are looking for something truly unique.

If you think, it really isn't a bad idea. Events or activities are some of the most memorable moments in anyone's life, and you can give that as a gift. Depending on where you live or where you want to go, you can find rafting day trips for under $100 per person. Not too shabby for a whole outdoor adventure. Especially if you were planning on spending that much anyway! Rafting America has the complete list of outfitters, locations and information for trips in the US, Canada and South America.

Rafting through Waller Creek, TX

I think I blogged about this issue previously, but seems like there is still some buzz with the locals and the whitewater park/route proposal. Some cities are in the process of adding whitewater rafting parks, with scores of acres dedicated to a fake river with rapids and descents. Waller Creek is still trying to do their own version of imitation whitewater rafting.

The proposal would take an already existing stretch of canal that runs through the city and turn it into a whitewater rafting run. The canal was originally propsed to take water from one end of a plain to the lake below, traveling straight through the city. River rafting was never in the original design intentions of the canal. If you read feedback on some of the news, you find quite a lot of different opinions on the matter. From the sounds of it, the canal, as it stand right now, is not a very pretty sight, and is poluted. I am not convinced this would be a good idea, but it would be minimal in construction, since the infrastucture is already in place. Could be worth a try?