2015 IRONMAN World Championships: Kona Business Owner’s Perspective

We hear the same old tired complaining yearly about the IRONMAN in Kona. Here are the complaints I hear every year:

  1. “The athletes don’t spend any money here.”
  2. “Many businesses have to close on IRONMAN day.”
  3. “IRONMAN is a huge business, and it takes advantage of the goodness of the people of Kona.”
  4. “The athletes are rude, arrogant, and a safety hazard.”

“The IRONMAN athletes don’t spend any money here.”

This is the biggest and most easily refuted claim of the naysayers. There are a few thousand athletes and probably a few thousand of their family, friends, and supporters in Kona for one to two weeks. Where are they staying? Condos, hotels, B&Bs. What are they eating? Food and beverages from restaurants and locally-owned grocery stores like KTA and Sack ‘N Save. What are they driving? Cars rented from the airport. Now go deeper. Every cleaner, waiter, shop attendant, and car lot worker had two (or more) solid weeks of work.

Kona Impact was busy making signs and installing graphics for IRONMAN sponsors for two weeks. Every restaurant owner I have talked to (some of the most well-known restaurants in town) said that IRONMAN is a massive boost for business. Even businesses like the music shop that rents audio gear for the event and the tour companies see a significant IRONMAN boost benefit.

So, the idea that IRONMAN has only a tiny impact on our economy is complete and utter baloney. It makes no sense and is just plain out false. If the average participant and family member just spent $2000 (highly conservative), you’re looking at millions of dollars a year in direct spending.

“Many businesses have to close on IRONMAN day.”

This is true. Yes, Kona Impact was closed. The locally-owned office supply store we use in the Old Industrial was closed, and several other places were inaccessible as well. The real question concerns impact. Did they lose a sale if I couldn’t buy a ream of paper at my preferred office supply store on a Saturday (traditionally their slowest day)? No, I would wait until Monday or plan and buy on Friday. This office supply store, by the way, saw several hundred dollars of business from Kona Impact in the weeks leading up to IRONMAN as we completed projects for sponsors—a definite plus.
Sure, it was difficult if you wanted to go to Target on Ironman day. My response: get over it. IRONMAN is one day, and you’ll do fine without shopping at Target one day of the year.

“IRONMAN is a huge business, and it takes advantage of the goodness of the people of Kona.”

Yes, IRONMAN is a HUGE business worth several hundred million dollars. And, yes, the people of Kona are good. Are they being taken advantage of? Most certainly not. Thousands of people from Kona volunteer, cheer on the athletes and participate in IRONMAN in different ways. Nobody is forced to volunteer; they do so because they want to help out and be part of the event. We do so because we like it.

Everyone in the Kona community benefits from the additional taxes paid on food, lodging, and purchases. Most benefit from the exposure Kona gets from the IRONMAN, which helps attract tourists and helps our economy year-round.
I’d also add the IRONMAN Foundation has been responsible for many tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds?) of dollars to the Kona community. I have worked on park build projects that have been partially funded by the Foundation, and I know they helped fund a van for PATH and have made several other community contributions a year.

“The athletes are rude, arrogant, and a safety hazard.”

Agreed! So are some of the residents of Kona! And so are some of the tourists that come here! I can drive a bit slower or more cautiously around the time of IRONMAN and still be happy. I also do the same around the holidays and in February when the snowbirds come. When I see an elderly person driving slowly or erratically, I give him extra space. I can certainly do the same for the few weeks the athletes are training and racing here.

My feelings as a business owner and a resident are the same: IRONMAN is great for Kona’s image and economy. I am certainly willing to accept that I may be inconvenienced for a day or two if my neighbor can buy a few extra bags of groceries and if my fellow business owners can make some extra money.

To all of those who complain year after year, stay home. Go to Hilo for the weekend. Read a good book. Work in your garden. Let your friends, neighbors, and community enjoy the fun, volunteer, and run their businesses.

Kona Impact | 329-6077