A good run for the money


POSTED: Sunday, December 13, 2009

What began in 1973 with a mere 167 entrants, has boomed more than three decades later into a 23,232-runner event that churns $100.7 million annually into Hawaii's economy.

No small feat—more so, when it's realized that the Honolulu Marathon is self-supporting, with all its expenses covered by entry fees and sponsorships, but no subsidies.

Today is the Honolulu Marathon's 37th running, and it is a huge credit to event organizers and volunteers that despite a down economy, registrant numbers have held up. About 24,000 participants are expected for the 26.2-mile marathon, and 3,000 walkers are predicted for the concurrent 10-k Race Day Walk.

The marquee power of the marathon is evident and strong: Last year's revenues were the fourth in a row to top $100 million; an additional $4.2 million was collected in state taxes.

The run is the main attraction—it is now the eighth-largest marathon in the world—but auxiliary activities have grown it into An Event. These include a four-day expo at the Hawaii Convention Center where registrants pick up their race number and timing chip, and where they and the public can peruse fitness booths and arts-and-craft stalls. There is a concert and luau, as well as an official DVD and myriad souvenirs for sale.

;[Preview]  More Runners for the Annual Marathon This Year

More than 23-thousand people are registered to run the 37th annual Honolulu Marathon tomorrow.

Watch ]


The registrants tell a demographic tale: For the last 20 years, except for the 9/11 year of 2001, more than half of all entrants were from Japan.

Professor Jerome “;Jerry”; Agrusa of Hawaii Pacific University's Travel Industry Management program, who has been recording and studying the event's economic effects since 2002, notes that marathon-goers tend to be good spenders, with a typical Japanese runner spending $300 a day. Current yen-to-dollar strength raises hopes for strong spending.

“;Multiple factors have been evaluated in past studies, and we update questions to be relevant for each year,”; Agrusa says of the annual study. “;This year, in addition to the general economic impact of the marathon, we will also have questions related to the current state of the economy, and questions for Japanese tourists about the increase in the value of the yen.”;

With Hawaii hotel room revenues falling 19.8 percent to $1.84 billion for the year through September, tourism is hurting. Hotel occupancy is down; so are room rates. Two recent conventions brought bursts of good news: the American Dental Association drew 24,000 delegates two months ago, and last month, 30,000 Jehovah's Witnesses spent an estimated $100 million, which included $9.5 million in total tax revenue.

But little is on the immediate horizon for a Destination Hawaii boost. The Pro Bowl, for instance, will not be coming next year after 30 years here. Even then, it pales in economic comparison to the marathon: Pro Bowl 2009 brought 24,000 visitors and generated $28.6 million in visitor spending and $2.9 million in state taxes; for Hawaii to host it again in 2011 and 2012, the Hawaii Tourism Authority will pay the NFL $8 million.

The Honolulu Marathon remains the model for traction. It was a vision that began 37 years ago—and with a solid reputation built on sweat and business savvy, the event flourishes.