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The problems of marketing Europe's largest waterfall

Visitors are being asked to stay longer and reach deeper into their pockets

(swissinfo.ch)

The authorities in northern Switzerland are making only limited progress in efforts to tap the tourist potential of the Rhine Falls. Up to two million people visit the falls every year, but they generate little income for the region.

"Wolfgang Goethe visited the water fall several times. He actually refused to describe the beauty because he found the falls so mighty. He said that there would be many attempts by many artists but they would all fail to describe its might," says guide Patrizia, shouting above the roar of the waterfall on the River Rhine close to the German border.

The German writer was overwhelmed by the sight of 700 cubic metres of water flowing over the limestone rocks lodged between high cliffs. Not so today. German and Swiss tourists use the falls as an excuse to hop out of their cars and stretch their legs on their way to alpine resorts or other tourist attractions in the region, with the added bonus of being able to say they've seen Europe's largest waterfall.

Thomas Holenstein, an economic expert with the cantonal government of Schaffhausen, describes the typical visit: "About 60 per cent of visitors stay less than two hours and that's only long enough to buy a coffee or a postcard. About half of them don't spend any money at all. They only pollute the environment and use the infrastructure. That's our main problem."

Holenstein heads a steering committee to find ways to convince visitors to stay longer and spend more money. He wants to create interactive attractions, which he says will complement the natural spectacle as well as generate income.

"Our goal is to show people the attraction of the Rhine Falls through the centuries. It was either a tourist draw or important for industrial development," Holenstein explains.

"The power of water was on the one hand an element of fascination and on the other hand it attracted industry. Schaffhausen has the falls to thank for its economic development."

The steering committee has proposed creating various multimedia simulations to explain the power of the falls, and to provide virtual rides over the cascade.

Holenstein would also like to set up a simulation of a Faraday's Cage "for the visualisation of electricity" so visitors can experience a simulated lightening strike.

"Hydroelectricity is no longer an attractive source of energy as it once was, but over the centuries, the Rhine Falls played an important role in tourism and industry in the region, particularly early industrialisation. We want to highlight these elements," he adds.

Holenstein hopes the new attractions can be opened in 2004. He says the steering committee has settled most differences with environmental groups by agreeing to place the new attractions into existing buildings.

However, he admits that investors have yet to be convinced of the economic feasibility of the project, even though his committee is backed by the public and private sectors, including large Swiss firms, such as SIG and Alusuisse, based near the falls.

Listening to the stories of guide Pellandini, it's easy to believe that investors could be put off by the fate of a foolhardy fisherman, whose ghost still haunts the falls today.

Pellandini tells the story as she looks out over the water slamming against the rocks before cascading over the precipice.

"He fell asleep above the falls and only woke when it was too late. But he survived the trip," she explains. "He went into a pub afterwards and told everyone about his adventure. When he got over the shock he started to brag about it, and was challenged to repeat the feat. But he didn't survive.

"Since then, legend has it that a fisherman can be seen going over the falls during a full moon."

by Dale Bechtel


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