False advertising to con/hook in Backpackers and their [sometimes] hard-earned money.
18.11.2009 - 18.11.2009
Travelers across the world are frequently bombarded with information and marketing to do once in a lifetime activities. Some, such as shark cage diving, swimming with whales and the like are indeed special activities, and though often associated with a specific location (especially amongst backpacking/traveling circles) can normally be done in several locations across the globe. Shark cage diving, for example, is a big attraction in Cape Town, although it is not unique to the Cape.
Other attractions, however, though still exciting and worthy are more common place. But because they are common place, the operators try and find ways to sell their experience as more special or unique (more unique? meh...) than anybody else's. Hence you get a preponderance of people offering the biggest, largest, highest, longest, tallest, scariest or fastest: And that just refers to your beer tab in the average hostel bar.
Naturally, at least half of all these claims – and probably much more – are dubious, out of date, requiring several qualifications, or just plain wrong. Within a week, we saw two different places (Table Mountain in Cape Town, and one in Lesotho) advertising the worlds highest abseil. Or, take the bungee jump at Bloukrans Bridge, east of Knysna on the South coast, for example. It proudly claims to be the worlds highest bungee jump, and even has a large certificate from the Guinness Book of World records on one wall to prove it. But what does that mean?
A quick glance at the certificate reveals that the wording is 'commercial' bungee jump. And a date of issue is very conspicuous by it's absence. A (very) small amount of research later and you discover that Bloukrans is actually only the 3rd highest commercial bungee in the world (though it is the highest bridge), and soon to get much lower as higher jumps open, though you can bet that they will still claim to be the highest. The highest, as of November 2009 is the Macau tower, which at 223 metres is 17 metres higher. The second highest is the Verzasca Dam in Switzerland, the same dam jumped off by Pierece Brosnan in the opening of the Bond film GoldenEye. A jump off the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado is over 100metres higher still, although at present it is only open to commercial jumpers every couple of years and so does not allegedly really count. AJ Hackett, the pioneer of bungee jumping and still one of the major players, has plans to turn it into a fixed commercial jump soon. And then, of course there are special jumps off tall buildings, and from helicopters, airplanes and hot air balloons which are much, much higher but not commercial or fixed, and thus not listed.
I am in no way a bungee expert – I have no desire to ever do one: i enjoy going up things, and normally get little kick from going down – but traveling with Maaret, I have suddenly learned quite a bit about them. Maaret is a bungee enthusiast. The Bloukrans one was her first ever jump, and she has since done many more including 7 of the top 10 highest in the world; once went all the way to Switzerland for a weekend just to do a single jump, and generally knows quite allot about them. One continual bugbear of hers is the misadvertising involved: Many people have jumped off the bridge at Victoria Falls linking Zimbabwe and Zambia, and say they have done the 3rd highest in the world. They say that because Lonely Planet tells them that it is, and LP is always, of course, 100% correct and never, ever has any errors. And the operators are not going to correct people either, as they are a major overland travel route and on to a good thing. In point of fact, at only 111m, it barely features in the top 10 highest commercial jumps. That is not to say that it is not a good jump or a great experience and should not be done. Merely that the advertising and hype is horribly incorrect.
The other thing that I only discovered at Bloukrans, watching a couple of people jump and talking to Maaret (there is no doubt that however many higher ones there are, it is still an impressive bridge and an impressive jump) is how the height is measured. In my naivety, I had assumed that if a jump is 218metres high, then you would be jumping/free falling for 218metres. This is not so. 218metres is actually the distance from the platform to the ground and a messy death below. The actual distance of rope, and thus the jump, is much less. At Bloukrans, for example, it looked as though jumpers got barely halfway down, whilst at Victoria Falls they probably covered ¾ of the distance.
I admit that I was amazed by this discovery.
All these things are at best annoying. Sometimes ignorance is best, but in practical terms, it is basically false advertising (lying) as a way of making money from gullible tourists, and to my mind should not be allowed. Whether most people care is actually a moot point. If something says it is the worlds highest bungee jump, people are going to tell their friends that they have done it, regardless of whether it actually is or not.
But next time you are offered the chance to do the 'biggest', 'highest', 'longest', 'largest', 'fastest' or any other superlative of pretty much anything, and decide to do it solely for that reason, stop for a moment, do a bit of research and take the claim with a pinch of salt.
And at the end of the day, whether it is the highest or not, the chances are you will enjoy it (and/or be scared sh1tless by it) anyway.