No One Wants to Go Rafting Anymore

On a recent paddling trip I stopped at the put in to say hi to a guide friend getting ready to put on. We were talking about the season when he said something that caught me off guard…“it’s weird, people just don’t want to go whitewater rafting anymore.”

It caught me off guard because I’ve been sitting on the research side for a while now, and distanced from the front lines of taking customers down on a daily basis. And from a research standpoint, what my friend said is exactly wrong. In fact, adventure tourism is currently the fastest growing segment of tourism with an expanding demographic taking part in adventure activities for the first time.

On the front lines however, this may not be as obvious as more competition is sprouting up across the U.S. (think of the explosion of ziplining in the past 5 years), and as my research shows, this new demographic isn’t necessarily seeking out the biggest baddest ride—which has been the driving force for years behind the particular stretch my friend and I were getting ready to paddle—but rather anything to give them a taste of the thrill.

This conversation got me thinking of who are really competitors out there.

Everyone would like to think that the area they are in offers so many great resources that consumers, especially those within the region, will inevitably head that way for adventure. And then it’s really a matter of getting them to choose you over the outfitter down the road.

To test this idea, we surveyed 200 people across the United States simply asking them “What state do you think of for whitewater rafting.”

Before going over the results, know that we are well aware that a one question survey answered by 200 people does not make an airtight scientific discovery. But with word of mouth still being the most trusted form of advertising, it’s important to begin to realistically look at whether your competition is one mile down the road or three states away.


To begin with, of the 40 states represented by survey participants, only 14 states were top of mind to those living in the state. While there are plenty of states that simply cannot geographically offer whitewater, there were some surprises such as Oregon and Washington participants claiming they do not know where to find whitewater, and each participant in Utah citing Colorado as the first place they think of for whitewater rafting. As is well known in the industry, all three states boast some great whitewater opportunities, but do those less familiar with the industry know what’s available to them in their own backyards? See how your state fared in the chart below. (click to enlarge)


As for overall popularity, Colorado was the substantial leader bringing in 49% of the votes. The chart below represents the remaining states fighting for second place in popularity behind Colorado. (click to enlarge)


How does your state fare? Are people aware of what your state has to offer? The state of Colorado puts great importance on promoting tourism and outdoor recreation opportunities, and they are overwhelmingly top of mind in this survey. Does your state put as much importance on educating potential visitors of the outdoor opportunities available? If not, maybe having your strategy focus primarily on competing with the company down the street isn’t the best idea. It may be time to incorporate working together to educate the surrounding areas of all you have to offer into your marketing strategy.

Contrary to my friend’s observation, “people just don’t want to go whitewater rafting,” people want to go, they just aren’t the same people who understand all the hidden gems in every state. Maybe it’s time to let the secret out.

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