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One of the World's Most Famous Boat Rides Struggling Under $1.2 Billion Debt



A world famous boating adventure is struggling to stay afloat under a massive debt.


For Canadians and Americans, as well as millions of international visitors, the iconic ride 'under' Niagara Falls has been a signature piece of North American maritime culture for nearly two centuries.


Long known as the Maid of the Mist on both sides of the border, the ferry that guides patrons around the base of the falls dates back to1846. Sadly, the company behind Maid of the Mist lost its contract with the government of Canada in 2014 to a company called Hornblower Niagara Cruises, who have been operating on the Canadian side ever since.


Maid of the Mist still exists on the U.S. side.


But for the millions of Canadians who travel to the wondrous waterwall to see its awe-inspiring heights, thundering sounds, and unrelenting mist, the chance to catch a boat ride around its basin may be in jeopardy.


Hornblower Niagara Cruises, the operators of the Canadian boat tour, is in a financial crisis as it attempts to overcome a staggering $1.2 billion debt.


In a recent article published by the CBC, the company said the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic have put them in a difficult financial position.


Hornblower Group recently entered bankruptcy protection in the U.S., where it's based, as well as in Ontario where its boat tours operate, according to CBC and documents filed in the Superior Court of Justice in February.


Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz approved the application for bankruptcy protection on Feb. 21, according to CBC. The legal documents and applications are currently available online, as are creditor updates from their court-appointed monitor.


In legal terms, bankruptcy protection provides a temporary reprieve by pausing any legal action from lenders against a company as it attempts to rectify financial duress.


As of yet, there is no breakdown from Hornblower Group listing the details of the debt or how it reached the eye-popping sum of $1.2 billion.


Hornblower Group also offers sightseeing cruises around Toronto Harbour and the Thousand Islands region that borders eastern Ontario and New York state.


According to the group, the $1.2 billion figure is the result of pandemic shutdowns, which in Canada in particular lasted from mid-2020 until well into 2022. Tour boat operations ceased during repeated lockdowns in Ontario, which triggered a liquidity crisis, according to the filed documents.


Pandemic-related travel restrictions, plus the subsequent decrease in tourism, were also key factors in the ballooning debt.


Surprisingly, according to the CBC, the company says its operations won't be impacted while they undergo bankruptcy protection. Hornblower Group has a contract with Niagara Parks, who oversee the falls, which gives it exclusive rights to provide boat tours until 2043, which the company says it will honour.

While the bankruptcy case goes through the court system, Hornblower Group has also been acquired by a new company -- Strategic Value Partners. According to a press release, the "agreement with investors provides for $121 million in new-money financing to support ongoing operations and total debt reduction of approximately $720 million."


As part of the restructuring, Hornblower Group is also selling its American Queen Voyages cruising business, which provides tours on several major U.S. rivers. Details of the sale have not been released.


So, while it remains unknown how one of the most famous boat rides in the world will overcome a $1.2 billion debt, Hornblower Group says a misty boat ride around Niagara Falls will still be available this summer.


The iconic Niagara Falls is actually comprised of three different waterfalls, Horseshoe Falls, which is widely considered the 'Canadian side,' and American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls on the U.S. side. They are 167 feet (51 m) high at their peak and push over an average of 85,000 cubic feet of water per second. The trio also produces over four million kilowatts of electricity that is shared between Canada and the U.S.


Boaters and travelers can still book online for a boat ride this upcoming season.



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3 Comments


How much of the debt was taken on to "juice" dividends to investors with little to no thought of how they'd get out of that much debt, except through bankruptcy..

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THe obvious question is how did they (they being the debtors) let it go so far? Did they really expect a turnaround?

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Scott Way
Scott Way
Mar 25
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That's a very good question. It appears the debt might also include several Hornblower entities, including the U.S. cruise line, so it's not just the Niagara Falls operation. Either way, it's a massive number to overcome.

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