Across the Wilmington area Friday, Ironman 70.3 North Carolina participants weren’t the only ones gearing up for an intense performance. Staff at hotels, restaurants and other local businesses are preparing for a busy weekend with about 7,000 visitors in town.
Kim Hufham, president and CEO of the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority, estimated the local economic impact from the race to be $7 million.
“An event like this fills our restaurants downtown. They’re going to be out shopping,” Hufham said. “They always spend money here in our community, so that’s great all the way around.”
Drew Wolff, regional director for The Ironman Group, said that visitors spend 2-4 nights in the area, with many staying in downtown Wilmington around the race’s home base at the Wilmington Convention Center or in short-term rentals on the beach.
Ironman 70.3 contributes to a trend of strong growth in the Wilmington area’s tourism industry coming off the pandemic. Room occupancy taxes collected from stays at hotels and short-term rentals in the county totaled nearly $22.6 million for the 2021-22 fiscal year, a record-breaking sum.
“That’s the largest we’ve ever had. So that was a big rebound over pre-COVID numbers,” Hufham said.
Hufham said events taking place outside of the already-busy summer months, like Ironman 70.3, help keep the area on track for another impressive year.
“That’s the area where we definitely have the most potential for growth,” she said of events in the fall and winter.
Wolff said the race organizers try to build excitement about Wilmington as a destination among the participants throughout the year by sharing profiles of local organizations to patronize while here.
“We’re here to race, but Wilmington’s a great place to enjoy, to stay and play,” Wolff said.
The first stop on the agenda for athletes upon arrival is the convention center, Wolff said, where they pick up important race materials. After they’ve collected materials and readied all the necessary gear, Wolff said participants usually “get a great meal and get to bed early.”
The race begins Oct. 15 with a 1.2-mile swim in Banks Channel, followed by a 56-mile bike ride from Wrightsville Beach to the countryside of Pender County and back to Wilmington. The final leg of the race is a half-marathon that starts at Greenfield Lake, loops through downtown Wilmington and ends at Riverfront Park.