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Marathon entries slack off


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POSTED: Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Honolulu Marathon is drawing fewer runners this year with a 15 percent dip in big-spending entrants from Japan, which will affect the Hawaii economy.

 

 

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That's bad news about of the big engines of Hawaii's economy.

 

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  "The main reason is the airline capacity from Japan. There are fewer seats to Hawaii," said Honolulu Marathon President Jim Barahal. "We have waiting lists in Japan. People couldn't get a flight.

"It's definitely not less interest. There's a marathon boom going on in Japan," said Barahal.

Early registration by local residents is also lagging, with 5,948 entrants compared with 7,480 who had signed on by this time last year.

Officials have registered 13,670 Japanese entrants and hope the number to rise to 15,000 by the Dec. 14 race. There were more than 17,000 runners from Japan last year, down from 22,000 in the 1990s peak years.

In all there are 21,856 people signed up, compared with 27,827 entries in 2007, according to race spokesman Pat Bigold.

Japanese runners, who traditionally are 60 percent of the field, account for 80 percent of the money brought into Hawaii by the race, said Jerry Agrusa, Hawaii Pacific University travel industry management professor, who does an annual economic survey of runners.

Agrusa estimated that the 2007 marathon brought nearly $109 million into the state, generating $3.7 million in tax revenues. A Japanese visitor spends an average of $100 a day more than a traveler from the mainland, he said.

The average Japanese visitor spends $282 a day, compared with $184 spent by a mainland visitor ($152 if a West Coast resident), according to state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism figures.

"We look at the sheer number of people and the number of days they stay," said Agrusa, who conducted interviews with 1,000 Japanese and 500 English-speaking entrants last year. His survey has found that, with family and friends accompanying a runner, each entry equals 2.1 people spending money here.

"They stay longer because it is a participatory event, not a spectator event," Agrusa said, so the marathon generates more than postseason football tournaments.

Last year there were 1,853 entries from the mainland and 684 from other countries besides Japan. This year, 1,504 mainland residents and 734 from other countries have paid early entry fees.

Agrusa said he believes the overall dip in participants reflects the economy. "People are pulling in on their spending. If the recession is here, I think it is amazing that there are this many runners. People have this affinity for this race: If I trained for a year, I'm going."

Race officials attribute the decline in registration by local residents to a hike in a special early entry fee offered in May to $30 from $20.

"We decided by raising the fee we could discourage the people who most likely wouldn't run the race, but would register just in case," Barahal said. "We still had to invest in the shirts and other things."

Mayor Mufi Hannemann said, "As the Honolulu Marathon is a premier sports attraction, this should obviously concern us. It is a source of thousands of tourists, and it is a concern. Those in position to do so should identify with Dr. Barahal ways to work toward this being just a blip, a one-time occurrence."