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Business boost from paddling World Cup hasn’t materialized yet

Economic development and tourism leaders in Swain County are treating the Freestyle Kayaking World Cup two weeks away as a dry run for the far more highly anticipated World Freestyle Kayaking Championship coming in 2013.

“This will start the ball rolling with the exposure,” said Ken Mills, the economic development director for Swain County. “For us, this is kind of a dress rehearsal.”


Mills does hope that the event will boost tourism during a time when visitors typically drop off until the fall leaves bring them back. More than 100 freestyle kayakers from 17 countries, including Australia, Costa Rica, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and Russia, will descend upon the Nantahala Gorge and surrounding areas to compete in the Freestyle Kayaking World Cup Sept. 7-9.

The event is expected to draw fewer competitors and spectators than next year’s championship, however, which will feature 500 paddlers from 45 different countries and is expected to bring up to 10,000 spectators.

An estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people are expected to attend the event this year.

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However, most businesses are not doing anything special for the World Cup, and lodging owners have not seen a bump in reservations that can be attributed to the kayaking event.

Few lodging businesses seem to be doing anything special in the way of marketing or advertising — not even by offering special rates for those attending the event. One reason for the lack of promotions is that the event just doesn’t seem to be driving any business, at least not at the two-week-out mark.

“Unfortunately, we have not gotten any reservations for that,” said Sue Sharpe, of Settler’s Mountain in Bryson City. “I would gladly do something special for that.”

Pam Pulley, the owner of Mountain Perks coffee shop and café in downtown Bryson City, said she isn’t planning anything particular to attract kayakers and paddling enthusiasts during the event, and does not know how it might affect her business.

Another popular Bryson City joint, Everett Street Diner, has no planned specials either. The diner does not expect an influx of kayaking customers that weekend.

The Swain County Tourism Development Authority created a website to promote both the World Cup this year and the World Championship next year — and to give local businesses a chance to market themselves to the paddling audience. The TDA purchased an ad on the blog Boater Talk, which is frequented by kayakers and other water enthusiasts, and is using social media to promote the event as well as Swain County. The tourism authority will also man an information booth at the World Cup.

“This is a real opportunity for our region,” said Karen Wilmot, executive director of the Swain Chamber of Commerce. “I feel confident that we have made the most of this from both marketing and otherwise.”

The chamber hosted two workshops for business owners and chamber members to educate locals about the event and talk about how to capitalize it.

Some business do have their sights set on the World Cup, albeit passively. Although Nantahala Brewing Company does not have any set-in-stone plans right now, Joe Roland was confident that kayakers and spectators would flood the brewery at some point during the World Cup festivities.

“I am sure we will be slammed as usual,” Roland said of the downtown microbrewery. “When there is a big event, everybody comes to our place.”

However, plans are often made at the last minute in paddling circles. Perhaps it is the calm and unfettered attitude of those who live and work in the gorge or simply the fact that people know the brewery has plenty of space and is always welcoming.

“Sometimes, it is just a last minute thing,” Roland said.

Carolina Mountain Rentals is offering a 5 percent discount for guests attending the World Cup and an additional discount for participants. However, it has not seen an increase in bookings because of the event, said Ken Groneck, marketing manager for Carolina Mountain Rentals.

“Our reservation specialist asks guests if they are planning to attend the event while they are in town but have not found any guests that are traveling to our area primarily to attend the event,” Groneck said in an email. “Some have expressed a passing interest, as ‘maybe we’ll try that, if we have time.’”

Several lodging establishments expressed a hope that people will make reservations the week leading up to the event, or simply walk in and rent a cabin or a room that weekend.

“We are not getting inundated with a lot of kayakers yet,” said Julia Watkins of Riverbend Lodging.

One possible reason for the lackluster response is that there are no big events planned in connection with the competition this year as there is with next year’s championship.

“They are not doing anything overly special,” Mills said.

Mills compared this year’s event to a soft opening.

“There wasn’t anything that really was a concentrated effort,” Mills said.

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