Water Transportation of Passengers, NEC

SIC 4489

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in furnishing water transportation of passengers, not elsewhere classified.

This industry comprises a number of different operations. Airboats, or swamp buggies, provide transportation primarily for sightseers in swamps and marshy areas; excursion and sightseeing boats offer passenger tours and inland water cruises; and canal boats give passengers the opportunity to explore historic canals. The Mississippi, Ohio, and Columbia Rivers are main waterways for river cruises. The Missouri River emerged as a popular tour destination during the middle of the first decade of the 2000s in conjunction with the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition and continued to feature tour and hotel barge excursions.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2009, 257 establishments engaged in the inland water transportation industry in the United States and employed 2,915 people. This industry generated about $349 million in annual revenues. The waterways scenic and sightseeing transportation industry had 1,715 establishments that employed 10,574 workers. These establishments accounted reported $1.2 billion in revenues in 2009.

While some establishments in the industry based their tourist appeal on remoteness from civilization, others focused on historical connections between industry and natural or manmade waterways. Disused canals offered great natural beauty and also served as a reminder of key moments in the nation's past, including the brief, yet crucial role of canals in opening up the West and fostering the growth of the U.S. economy, as well as a time when the forces of industrialization and the natural world coexisted on a more equal footing. One example was the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, connecting Cumberland, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., which became a national historical park.

River tours provided excellent introductions to the history and architecture of major urban centers. Other activities in the industry included dinner yacht cruises, steamboat rides, riverboat gaming operations, and trips aboard U.S. Postal Service boats. Shipwreck sites had become "bottomland preserves," providing additional sources of revenue for local businesses offering water transportation services to tourists, marine biologists, and scuba enthusiasts.

One of the industry leaders in the early 2010s included the San Francisco-based Blue & Gold Fleet, which operated ferry and water excursion services in the Bay Area. According to the company's Web site, it operated 17 different vessels and transported approximately 2.5 million passengers a year. Seattle-based American West Steamboat Company featured a paddle-wheel cruiser on the Columbia-Snake River system and had $4.8 million in revenues in 2011. America Cruise Lines, of Guilford, Connecticut, specialized in small ship cruising and offered inland cruises of Florida rivers as well as historic tours of the Antebellum South. Other important players in the industry were New Orleans-based Delta Queen Steamboat Co., a subsidiary of Ambassador International, and RiverBarge Excursion Lines, also of New Orleans, which offered river excursions on two three-deck hotel barges and had $7.2 million in sales in 2011.

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