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Ironman offers boost to isle economy

<p>Stephens Media</p><p>A crowd is seen at the finish line of a previous Ironman competition.</p><p>Stephens Media</p><p>Athletes compete in a previous Ironman competition.</p>

By ERIN MILLER

Stephens Media

The days leading up to the Ironman World Championship triathlon make for a really good week, Roberts Hawaii General Manager Edmund Yamagata says.

“It’s probably quadruple our revenue of a regular week,” Yamagata said Wednesday. “It keeps the drivers happy because they’re busy. It keeps everybody happy.”

Other businesses share Yamagata’s sentiments, Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce President Vivian Landrum said. She was at one Kona restaurant Tuesday night and saw a line of people waiting to buy T-shirts, in addition to food.

“You just love to see that,” she said.

World Triathlon Corp. officials did not respond to several requests for updated information on the race’s economic impact.

Landrum, though, in her most recent Chamber newsletter, noted an Ironman study, completed by Markrich Research, that showed the event brings in about $1.4 million annually. The study said participants stay about eight days on the Big Island and a total of about 12 days statewide. The athletes don’t come alone, the study said, but bring, on average, 2.6 companions.

According to Ironman officials, about 20,000 spectators are expected this year, and about 5,000 people will volunteer on race day.

“It’s a wonderful symbiotic relationship between our community and Ironman,” Landrum said. “Ironman brings so much via marketing exposure and dollars they pump into the economy.”

Ironman competitors, their travel companions and everyone coming to the state for the event spend about $25 million, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. HTA’s Sport and Tourism Brand Manager Michael Story said the spending doesn’t end when the race is over. Athletes trying to qualify for the world championship will vacation on Hawaii Island at other times of the year for the chance to train on the course.

“It’s truly a year-round event,” Story said.

The worldwide qualifying competitions and the way amateur athletes can practice and race side by side with professionals are also big draws for the event, Story said.

He said the requirement that athletes qualify, a feat that can take years of training and many attempts, with those efforts so often referred to as “the road to Kona,” elevates West Hawaii in competitors’ minds. People dream for years of coming here, and while they’re dreaming and training, their families are often providing support. That’s why extended families so often will travel with age group athletes to cheer them on during the race, Story said.

Ironman athletes are often thinking about the next year’s championship not long after crossing the finish line on Alii Drive, King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel Sales Director Deanna Isbister said. Athletes will often ask about accommodations for the next year before checking out, she said.

“We sell out every year for the event,” she said. “We host the three main sports events here (Ironman, the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament and the Queen Liliuokalani Long Distance Canoe Races). By far, Ironman is the top event.”

Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Keoni Wagner said the company did not have specific figures showing the impact Ironman athletes have on the company’s sales. But any major event bumps sales at least a bit, Wagner said.

Email Erin Miller at emiller@westhawaiitoday.com.

 

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