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Friday, October 13, 2000


By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Myriad items ranging from Ironman-licensed water bottles
to sports glasses are available in Kailua-Kona stores, drawing
shoppers like Dieval Christophe, of New Caledonia, above
left, and Gary Greenwood, of Philadelphia.

Ironman pumps up
Big Isle economy

The race means millions
for the Kailua-Kona area

By Russ Lynch

Steve Winter and the kitchen crew at King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel figure that in 12 years as the headquarters for the Ironman Triathlon, the Kailua-Kona hotel has served more than 750,000 pounds of pasta to the athletes.

That's typical of the anecdotes that Kona people trot out to illustrate what they say is the undoubted economic value of having the event in their area.

And Winter, general manager of the 451-room hotel right next to the Kailua pier, says the economic impact is real. For the hotel, it means work and extra employment.

"It's a year's worth of planning. From the time the race is finished we're already starting work for the next year," he said.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Along Alii Drive, displays include a two-story-tall
bottle of vitamins.

Aside from having a full house as the headquarters, the hotel caters the race's three main food events, Winter said -- the "carbo-loading" party for more than 2,000 people last night, an awards dinner Sunday for more than 4,000, and a mahalo dinner next Friday for volunteers, also expected to attract more than 2,000.

"I have to hire practically three dozen people just to do the running (bringing dishes from the kitchen to the buffet lines) and 25 to 30 others" to serve food and do other work, he said.

More than 1,500 athletes are in the area for tomorrow's race and they have brought many friends and family members with them.

A 1998 study by the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism estimated that that year's Ironman would generate $14.9 million in direct sales to visitors from out of state. Kona officials say there is no reasons to believe that this year's Ironman Triathlon World Championship will not have at least the same impact on the local economy.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Tyson Valenzuela, left, and Trudy Mullen, employees
of Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. of Kailua-Kona, prepare
the restaurant's float for the Ironman Parade earlier this week.

The 1998 study said Ironman should produce more than $26 million in sales, by the time the multiplier effect is taken into account, meaning the spending that workers and businesses do as a result of the extra income they get from the event.

"This probably dumps the most number of people in a small area for the least length of time," said Marni Herkes, president of the Kohala-Kona Chamber of Commerce.

"It's wonderful. It's madness. You can't drive on the roads and I love it. The Chamber of Commerce loves it when you can't drive on the roads" because it means visitors are there and spending money, Herkes said.

It's not just the business aspect that pleases her, however. "Really, it translates into community excitement. It translates into a feeling of oneness with people who are dedicated to being the best they can be."

King Kamehameha's Winter said the race really involves the residents. "I was told (on Wednesday) there are 1,594 athletes registered and it takes well over 7,000 volunteers just to make that race happen," he said yesterday.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Banners touting the names of corporate and local
sponsors line Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona this week.

Carol Roberts, manager of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant on Alii Drive, said lunch and dinner sales have increased about 40 percent since the race crowd started coming in a week ago. "We've just come down off our slow season," she said.

Not only have the Ironman people been in town, there were cruise ships anchored at Kona Monday and another yesterday and two more are expected tomorrow, Kona officials said.

Public relations executive Ross Wilson of Current Events, a firm that works with the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau to promote the area and is handling specific publicity for the Ironman, said the event attracts some 7,000 to 10,000 people to the island.

They are "athletes, their families, media, sponsors, visitors that come in for the event," Wilson said. "It's the Olympics of the sport of triathlon. Fifty states and 50 countries are taking part. Kailua-Kona takes on the ambience of the Olympic Village, flags everywhere and people speaking different languages," he said.

More than 300 media representatives have registered and obtained credentials to cover this year's race, he said.

Area visitor industry officials believe their presence will result in a huge amount of publicity for the Kona area's beauty and hospitality.

"It's just a fun place to be," Wilson said.

Ironman at a glance

Bullet EVENT: 22nd Ironman Triathlon World Championship.
Bullet WHEN: Tomorrow.
Bullet WHAT: Ocean swim of 2.4 miles, 112-mile bike race, and 26.2-mile marathon.
Bullet WHO: More than 1,500 contestants, from 50 states and 50 countries. Also about 7,000 local volunteers.
Bullet WHERE: Kailua-Kona. Swim starts and ends at the pier. Bike race north to Hawi and back to finish at Keauhou. Foot race north and back to finish on Alii Drive in town.
Bullet PRIZES: $70,000 each for first-place man and woman, $325,000 total prize money.
Bullet ECONOMY: Estimated contribution to Hawaii's economy $15 million in sales.

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