Interlaken: Swiss canyoning mecca

The demand for extreme sports in Interlaken appears to be nearly as strong as before the accident, and judging by the frequency of signs advertising canyoning as one of those sports, the subject certainly hasn't become taboo.

This content was published on July 26, 2000 minutes

Sandy Bolland, the manager of Balmer's Herberge, a popular hostel for young foreign travellers, said the impact of last year's accident had been minimal.

"We personally haven't found that it's had that great an influence on bookings for extreme sports," Bolland told swissinfo, adding that the continued interest was a result of young people not knowing about the accident or the fact that the memory fades with time.

"But I also think it has to do with human nature. If you go skiing and you see an avalanche, it doesn't stop you skiing."

She said that if an accident doesn't involve an individual directly it doesn't have as great an effect.

One place that seemed particularly busy was Alpin Raft where young people were crowding its office to make bookings for canyoning, bungy jumping and sky diving tours.

Their comments tended to back up Bolland's analysis. They either hadn't heard of the canyoning accident or took a philosophical attitude.

"It was a terrible tragedy," said one young American. "But I think things like that can happen in any activity. These sports are dangerous but lots of safety precautions are taken."

Another American echoed the sentiment: "It's risky, but that's part of the fun of it."

But for Heinz Loosli, the manager of Alpin Raft, the appearances of a good business year are deceiving. He said bookings with his company by overseas visitors had fallen by between 10 and 20 per cent, and by as much as 80 per cent within Switzerland.

"The general public now thinks that all adventure sports are dangerous," said Loosli, "We have to work to regain the confidence of the public."

Another reason for the decline in business for Alpin Raft could be more competition. Since the company which organised last year's fatal trip, Adventure World, closed down, other companies have sprung up.

Bolland believes they're trying to take advantage of a perceived gap in the market. "Other companies are trying to get a piece of the cake. Unfortunately, right now I have to say there are a lot of companies in whom I don't have a lot of trust [because] they aren't taking safety factors into consideration."

For Hannes Imboden, the director of Bernese Oberland Tourism, the canyoning tragedy has had little effect on tourism overall, but he admits there has been a drop in demand for adventure activities. "Overall business in adventure activities has fallen by 20 to 30 per cent."

He added that the impact had been worst felt in Switzerland, with the numbers of Swiss going canyoning down by as much as half. However, he said the image of adventure sports would probably not suffer in the long term.

by Paul Sufrin

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