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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, December 7, 2002

Race a big boost to local economy

By Katherine Nichols
Special to The Advertiser


WHEN: Tomorrow, 5 a.m.

WHERE: Downtown, through Waikiki to Hawai'i Kai and back, finishing at Kapi'olani Park.




COURSE RECORDS: Men—Ibrahim Hussein, Kenya 2:11:43 (1986); women—Lyubov Morgunova, Russia 2:28:33 (2000).

It started in 1973 as a simple footrace with 162 entrants from the local running community.

In three decades it has evolved into one of the top five megaraces in the world, drawing thousands from foreign soil and becoming a driving force in the state's economy.

Tomorrow at 5 a.m., about 29,000 people from all over the United States and some 40 other countries — including 16,292 from Japan — will participate in the 30th annual Honolulu Marathon.

Gone are the days when the biggest exchange of money amounted to entry fee for T-shirt.

Though some Hawai'i runners might miss the loss of the race's "local feeling," they enjoy "participating in a huge, well-organized event" even more, said veteran Honolulu Marathon runner and coach Raul Boca.

A total of 6,292 runners from Hawai'i have entered this year.

"It's the biggest game in town when it comes to marathons (there are a handful of others on the Neighbor Islands)," said Brian Clarke, who has prepared runners for the Honolulu Marathon since 1979. "It has that name and that allure."

And if Hawai'i runners are surprised by how different their daily running routes look on race day, some small businesses are thrilled that the same foot traffic comes their way before and after the event.

"This is our Christmas right here, this week," said Ray Woo, manager of the Running Room on Kapahulu Avenue. "We pretty much double our daily sales."

For the state that means a direct infusion of $62.2 million, according to the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. It also means hotel occupancy in Waikiki jumps 20 percent, and now that many participants are enjoying pre- and post-marathon trips, Neighbor Islands are seeing their numbers rise as well.

Unlike the Pro Bowl or PGA Tour or even the Ironman Triathlon, the Honolulu Marathon receives no money from the state, yet contributes more direct dollars to the economy and boosts hotel occupancy more than any other event, according to tourism officials.

And though this year's entries fall short of the record high of 34,000 in 1995, the timing couldn't be better following the economic fallout in Japan and the effects of Sept. 11.

"The marathon is maybe the best of the best of attendance events, because this is the time when people normally don't travel unless they have a reason to travel," said David Carey, president and chief executive officer of Outrigger Hotels & Resorts.

Outrigger Reef on the Beach, the location of marathon headquarters, is oversold this weekend like many hotels in Waikiki, Carey said.

Housekeepers not normally scheduled to work are getting more hours. Restaurants are full. Shops are selling extra.

"When you have a big year like this year, everybody does well," said Carey.

Waikiki has 31,000 hotel rooms. When each runner brings a companion or two, the effects are enormous. "In a slow period, that's extraordinary," Carey added.

Hotel occupancy in Waikiki averaged about 65 percent in prior weeks, according to Joe Toy, president and chief executive officer of Hospitality Advisors, LLC. That percentage jumps to the mid-80s in the few days before the marathon, he said, with some hotels, including luxury properties at the Sheraton Moana, completely booked.

"It more or less kicks off our busy winter season," said Toy. "It also gives a little bit of a preview of how strong the market is. It tells you the willingness of the public to travel, and certainly during this time that's a very important indicator."

Woo, a marathoner himself, said that the Islands are an ideal lure in December. "It's cold where (the athletes) come from," he said. "They make it a little vacation and do the run."

This is what makes the marathon so unique from other megasize races.

Toni Reavis, a veteran Honolulu Marathon commentator and host for New Balance Elite Racing on Fox Sports, agreed. For the elite Russian competitors, "this is the end of the rainbow," he said. "To come here and actually get paid to perform ... only in dreams would this kind of potential exist."

Niketown Honolulu hopes the big allure will translate to big spending. The store usually hires extra sales people and posts 4 percent of its annual sales during marathon week, the highest sales volume week of the year, according to Keala Peters, Niketown's marketing manager. This year she ordered 25 percent more Honolulu Marathon logo items in anticipation of a boost in sales for the 30th anniversary.

"Events like this bring a lot of first time visitors, and this event in particular occurs at a relatively slow season, before the holiday rush," said Pearl Imada Iboshi, the state's chief economist.

Some believe last year's race saved barren, post-Sept. 11 Waikiki. Jim Barahal, Honolulu Marathon Association president, said that before the terrorist attacks, he had expected close to 30,000 in 2001. Despite everything that happened, the race still managed to draw nearly 22,000.

"It reaffirms what would have happened last year," he said.

"We managed to pull off a pretty remarkable feat given the world conditions."

Barahal believes the momentum will continue. He said there's still a demand to run the Honolulu Marathon, especially in Japan.

"We don't think this is a peak," he said. "We expect this to grow more."