It is the largest waterfall in Europe, easily accessible and close to densely populated areas. But these days fewer and fewer people want to see it.
Up until the end of the 1960s, more than one and a half million people a year visited the Rhine Falls on the border between cantons Zurich and Schaffhausen. They were faced with an unparalleled natural spectacle: more than 700 cubic metres of water a second pitching over the wide limestone cliffs, which were formed during the last ice age.
The number of visitors has now dropped by nearly half compared with 30 years ago. The authorities in the region say the natural attraction has lost out to the large number of leisure activities now on offer in the area, including amusement and theme parks like "Europapark" and "Sealife Centre" across the border in Germany.
A working group was set up last year to look into the problem and to find ways of reversing the trend. Its findings made for stark reading: 85 per cent of all visitors to the falls only stopped while passing through to somewhere else, and most stayed less than two hours, spending little if any money.
"We don't want tourists who only pollute the environment and use the toilets," said Thomas Holenstein, head of the working group.
It has recommended investing SFr40 million to provide what Holenstein called "Infotainment" offers. He said people should be able to learn about the waterfall and the industry around the cataracts in an entertaining way. If the plan goes ahead, visitors will also be able to board a boat to take them below the falls.
Visitors will, however, have to pay for the new attractions. Only access to the existing viewing platform, which extends over the falls, will remain free.
The tourist offices in the region are already making attempts to attract more visitors. They are offering rides in rubber dinghies down the Rhine starting at the falls, and guided tours for groups, focusing on geological and historical aspects.
Swissinfo with agencies
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