Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours owner reflects on ‘recovery’ season, hopes for more in 2024

 ‘After several seasons of capacity limits and border closures, it’s been a really important opportunity for us to rebound’. Photo credit: Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours


As the nights get colder, school returns to session, and the signs of the season turn to football, migrating birds, and pumpkin-spiced lattes, it is a critical time for businesses in the tourism industry as they wrap up their busy months. 

John Kinney is the founder and owner of Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours. 

“It has been a remarkable season,” Kinney shared in a recent sit-down with The Niagara Independent. “In spite of the weather, we’ve had a successful year.” 

Kinney, who began operating Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours in 1992, says that 2023 has been the second-worst season in terms of weather conditions on record. “The amount of rain we have contended with this year has been unbelievable,” Kinney explained. “It is second only to our inaugural summer, 1992, when it rained eleven of thirteen weekends.” 

The weather was of a particular concern going into the 2023 season, as it has been a pivotal year for tourism. “We’re absolutely in tourism recovery mode,” Kinney shared. “After several seasons of capacity limits and border closures, it’s been a really important opportunity for us to rebound… and we have,” he added. “We are hoping to see things improve even further for next season.” 

The brainchild of Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours can be traced as far back as the mid-1980s, when Kinney was a university student. “I am native to Pennsylvania, and I have always really enjoyed white-water kayaking,” Kinney shared. “As a university student, when I was trekking up to Ottawa to kayak, I would drive right through Niagara, and I was amazed by the Falls, the Niagara River, the Gorge,” he shared. “It is a real geological phenomenon.” 

“That is where the idea for boat-tours originally came from… but we then had the challenge of engineering boats that were safe, and would address all safety concerns,” he explained. “We were successful in this pursuit, and today, octogenarians regularly take part in our tours… our most elderly passenger to this point was 98 years old!” 

Kinney applauded the diligence and skillfulness of the 140 people that work at Whirlpool. “There’s a mentality to think that once tourist season is over, those of us who work in the industry head home and watch sports all winter,” he said. “That’s simply not true… there is huge work that has to be done on sales, marketing, planning, logistics, etc.,” he continued. “There is so much preparation that goes into each season.”  

A new innovation at Whirlpool, which excites Kinney immensely, is the Freedom Jet. “Our Freedom Jets are a tremendous engineering accomplishment because they provide passengers with the option of a wet (14 seats) or a dry tour (48 seats),” he explained. “Whereas before, we would have to send two boats, this allows us to accommodate visitors looking to get wet, and those who would prefer a dry experience, simultaneously.”

When asked what advice he would give to young entrepreneurs seeking to break into the tourism industry, Kinney shared some key thoughts. “You’re gonna become well-to-do very slowly… this (last) weekend, we’re going to service as many customers as we did in the entire 1992 season,” he explained. “Another thing to really keep in mind is that in this day and age, it is becoming very difficult to find highly-skilled people… dynamic people… the people you absolutely need to be successful.” 

While summer holidays may be over, Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, which operates on both the Canadian and American side of Niagara Falls, will continue operations through the autumn months. 

Those interested in learning more about Whirlpool, or booking a boat tour, are invited to visit their website

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