Ironman steps up pace of local economy

Thousands of athletes and volunteers prepare for Sunday's gruelling triathlon

Dawn Ford helps prepare the welcome packages for this year’s participants at the Okanagan Lake Park tent headquarters earlier this week.

Dawn Ford helps prepare the welcome packages for this year’s participants at the Okanagan Lake Park tent headquarters earlier this week.

After 29 years, the Subaru Ironman Canada Triathlon continues to be the leading tourism driver in Penticton.

“There was a study, that is dated now, from 2004 that estimated Ironman’s impact to be $12.5 million. So it’s significant revenue that an event of this size drives to the economy of Penticton,” said Jessie Campbell, tourism marketing manager for Penticton and Wine Country.

“Ironman certainly is one of the most iconic events, and a lot of that has to do with its longevity, but also to do with the amount of exposure we get nationwide. I was just reading an article in a national paper that was talking about Ironman. The reach of an event like Ironman really puts Penticton on the map both nationally and internationally, which there is incredible value in.”

In comparison, the recent Granfondo generated an estimated $2 million of economic impact, but that was the first time the cycling event occurred in Penticton. Campbell estimates each Ironman participant brings with them an average of three-and-a-half guests.

“If there is 3,200 participants that we may be looking at this year, that is over 11,000 people that are descending upon Penticton this weekend, which is pretty impressive because that is a third of our population,” said Campbell.

The 2004 study on the economic impact of Ironman in Penticton also estimated an average participant’s stay in the city to be about seven days. Penticton and Wine Country Tourism is trying to encourage participants to stay even longer to have a chance to train and enjoy what the city and area has to offer. This year they partnered with the Iron Club to communicate with athletes by email in advance of the race to encourage them to stop by the visitor centre and check out so they can plan activities before and after their time at Ironman.

“We are really excited about that partnership because we anticipate a large number of athletes that did receive communication about Penticton will have tweaked their minds about all the other activities that are available while they are here for Ironman,” said Campbell.

Volunteers were frantically stuffing race kits on Wednesday for the more than 3,000 participants competing on Sunday. Mixed inside the athletes’ essentials of race numbers and participant wristbands are pamphlets and advertising information about Penticton and local attractions to take in while they are here.

“It isn’t just 3,000 athletes here. They bring with them about four to five people because many people make this their summer vacation. On top of that you have the athletes who want to race in 2012 here because the primary way to sign up for the race is you have to be here Monday morning so we also have all those athletes here,” said Laura Carleton, Ironman race director and volunteer co-ordinator.

Carleton said volunteers are still needed in a couple of areas in traffic control and crowd control. Volunteer information can be found at the tent set up at Ironman Expo in Okanagan Lake Park. If anyone is interested in volunteering, Carleton suggests they visit the tent to find more information. This year there are about 4,500 people volunteering their time to Ironman.

While participants and volunteers are gearing up for the race that starts at 7 a.m. Sunday, there has been plenty to do throughout the week. On Thursday the Subaru five kilometre and Timex Iron Kids one km fun runs took place.

The Downtown Penticton Association and Royal LePage are hosting a street dance in the 200 and 300 blocks of Main Street from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. today, featuring three stages, six bands, street performers, fire spinners, belly dancers, free bouncy castles, a rock wall, food vendors and more.

On Monday, those who crossed the finish line the day before will be able to pick up finisher’s merchandise starting at 7 a.m. at Okanagan Park. Registration for the 2012 Subaru Ironman Canada race and 2011 Ford Ironman World Championship in Hawaii will be open starting at 9 a.m.