Gainesville and Hall County will be stepping in to the international spotlight Sept. 12-16 when more than 1,000 athletes from around the world compete in the International Canoe Federation Dragon Boat World Championships at Lake Lanier Olympic Park.
That influx of athletes and visitors is expected to boost the local economy by an estimated $3-4 million, and offers the opportunity to promote the area to an international audience.
- Where: Lake Lanier Olympic Park, 3105 Clarks Bridge Road, Gainesville
- Opening ceremonies: 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12, Olympic Park
- Racing events: Beginning 8 a.m. Sept. 13-16
- Closing ceremonies: 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16, the Smithgall Arts Center Lawn, 331 Spring St., Gainesville; tickets $20
- How much: Parking at Lanier Olympic Park is $10, racing events and opening ceremonies are free
“We’ll have the world’s eyes on Gainesville, and you really can’t put a price tag or a value on that type of publicity,” said Regina Dyer, manager of the Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
That publicity may lead people from around the United States or the world to keep Gainesville and Georgia in mind when planning future trips, Dyer said.
“It spotlights Gainesville, and they may come back. They’ll see that, ‘we could have a vacation here, we could get away, why not come to Georgia?’” she said.
The athletes will not be the only ones filling Hall County’s restaurants, hotels and stores this week. About 2,000 to 5,000 spectators are expected each day of the championships, many of those people coming from outside the region and the country to cheer on their favorite team.
Practices begin Sunday at the venue. (Learn more about the sport here.)
The championships will have a more significant impact than other athletic competitions because the athletes participating are older and will spend more, according to Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau. Athletes range in age from 17 to 70, and the median age is 30, she said.
“The expendable income and potential spending value of these guests is higher than your average athletic competition, which would be younger people who don’t have as much expendable income. They’re going to be going out at night, and going to dinner and shopping in their off time,” Dickson said.
Restaurants and hotels are not the only businesses affected, Dickson said. International travelers may also need to go shopping for essentials like over-the-counter medications that they cannot bring on an airplane, giving the retail industry in the county an unexpected boost, she said.
Dickson said because racing events will be held during the day, restaurants, especially in downtown Gainesville, likely will be crowded at dinnertime.
Ronnie DiOrio, owner of Mule Camp Tavern, said his restaurant will have extra staff on hand this week to serve the crowds. He said he wants international or nonlocal customers to get to know the Gainesville community, and hopes they can do that by mingling with people from the area at his restaurant.
“You look for the dive bar around town, where the locals go,” DiOrio said.
A shuttle will take athletes from hotels in Gainesville and Oakwood to Lake Lanier Olympic Park. Dyer said hotels in Gainesville and Hall are almost fully booked for the week. Another event in Gainesville, a Fishing League Worldwide tournament at Laurel Park, will bring even more visitors to the area.
Robyn Lynch, executive director of Lake Lanier Olympic Park, estimated the economic impact at $3 million to $4 million. The event costs about $1 million, a bill largely covered by sponsors and athlete participation fees. The Olympic venue also purchased 38 boats in January for about $100,000. Some of those costs will be recouped when the boats are sold after the event.
Hall County spokeswoman Katie Crumley said the county did not financially contribute to the championships. The Gainesville Department of Water Resources donated 21,000 water bottles valued at $4,200 for the championships, city spokeswoman Nikki Perry said.
Organizers have spent about three years preparing for the event, and now they are working with local businesses and hotels to help them get ready. Volunteers are stepping in, too, helping out with everything from traffic control to transporting athletes and prepping boats.
“It takes teamwork, and when we have these events, as crazy and busy as we all are, in the end, the end result is great. It’s great for our visitors and our community,” Dyer said.
The boat ramp at the park will be closed through Sept. 16. The beach will be open, but there will be a $10 parking fee during events. The Hall County Sheriff’s Office will have boats on the water in the area encouraging boaters to slow down and maintain the no-wake zone.