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Fresh approach for white-water marathon

WHAT a difference two years make.

Just 24 months ago the Coates Hire Avon Descent was on the brink of collapse, yet this year the event will be exposed to a national (and hopefully) and international tele-vision audience.

The resuscitation of the white water spectacular was the result of a formal re-structure of the traditional Northam Avon Descent Association (NADA) by former WATC boss Kevin Harrison.

The wash-up has been the formation of sub-committees, the employment of a full-time paid event coordinator, a structured three-year business and marketing plan and a major sponsorship push.

The race was first held in 1973 without rules, officials or check-points, and just 49 competitors and few spectators.

Today, more than 2000 volunteers, 500 craft and 700-plus competitors are involved. Police estimates suggest that, in recent years, almost 100,000 individuals have witnessed the race along the river’s banks in a single weekend.

“Our first objective was to get the race re-organised,” Mr Harrison said.

“This year’s stage was to examine it (the race) on a national and international scale.”

To this end NADA has re-negotiated broadcast rights to the event, shifting television rights from Channel Nine Perth – which in past years broadcast the event only in WA – to Ten in Perth, which will broadcast a half-hour special across the nation.

Mr Harrison said that, along with a larger television audience, an important part of the negotiations with Ten was the stipulation that the network include several 15 to 30-second ‘picture postcards’ of the region and its attractions during the broadcast.

“Before they (Ten) go to commercial they link in and show a 15 or 30-second grab of local tourism product,” he said.

“It allowed us to promote the region. The Avon and the Swan Valley have a lot to offer.”

Channel Ten also seemed very happy about obtaining rights to the event.

Segment producer and Ten news director Chris Hunt said the event had great visual impact and strong potential.

“It’s something that we thought a national audience would appreciate,” he said.

The product would fit well into Ten’s Sunday afternoon sports slot, Mr Hunt said.

Mr Harrison said NADA had plans to re-sell the half-hour package made by Ten to cable stations in Europe and the US, to further promote both the white-water event and the region overseas.

He said promoting tourism, products, local culture and ‘soft tourism’ in the Avon and Swan Valley regions was an important objective for NADA.

“Soft adventure tourism is the fastest growing market in world tourism, especially through South-East Asia,” Mr Harrison said.

“People want to have an adventure, but they don’t want to take risk.”

NADA is also hoping to attract more competitors and tourists by cross promoting the event with similar events around the world, with the eventual goal to create an international white-water circuit.

“What we have established through negotiations with the Fish River Marathon in South Africa is a reciprocal arrangement where the winner of the Avon will get to run in the Fish River Marathon,” Mr Harrison said.

The winner of South Africa’s Fish River Marathon will receive a free trip to WA and entry into next year’s event.

“Already we are getting major exposure in South Africa as a result,” Mr Harrison said.

“We’re also talking with major races in Ireland and Spain.”

To attract more competitors and spectators on a national level, an addition has been made to the descent in the form of the Burswood Cup.

Two top canoeists from each of Australia’s six states have been invited to vie for the cup and the additional prize money it offers.

All 12 canoeists will compete in identical vessels to ensure the race is truly an equaliser.

According to Mr Harrison, this will have the two-fold effect of both attracting eastern states competitors and visitors and giving viewers in other states local teams to barrack for during the nationally televised race.

NADA’s event coordinator Deanne Jones said the uniqueness of the race created some special problems in capturing the tourist dollar on a local level.

“The Coates Hire Avon Decent is not a stationary event. Once the race has gone from Northam, that’s it, so the window of opportunity is very limited,” she said.

Ms Jones said an important part of increasing spending in particular regions was to value-add on site.

“You can’t ask people to stay on Saturday morning when they want to follow the race down,” she said.

To get extra value from tourists who come to Northam to watch the beginning of the race on Saturday morning, a festival has been organised for the Friday night.

This year’s Avon Valley Festival will offer live music, street parades, sideshow attractions and food stalls.

Ms Jones said other points of interest must be placed around the race itself to give tourists a greater choice of activities.

NADA is currently undertaking a social and economic impact study on the event to aid the event’s future organisation and marketing.

This year’s event is on Saturday and Sunday, August 4 and 5.

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