Honolulu Marathon hit by huge drop in Japanese runners

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kalakaua Avenue, part of the Honolulu Marathon course that runs along the beach, is seen Friday.

HONOLULU — Fewer than half the usual number of people have signed up to run in the Honolulu Marathon, to be held Sunday on the island of Oahu, largely because of a decline in Japanese runners.

Although the event will be held for the first time in two years, the latest tally of registered participants is only about 14,500. The number of Japanese, who usually account for nearly half of the total, has fallen to about 450, due to the novel coronavirus crisis. The local tourism industry is expected to suffer a severe blow.

The Honolulu Marathon Association expects the number of participants to drop further because of concerns about the impact of the omicron coronavirus variant.

The Hawaii State Department of Health announced Dec. 2 that a resident of Oahu had been found to be infected with the omicron variant. The resident had not received a vaccine but had been previously infected with the coronavirus. As the resident has no recent travel history, the infection is suspected to be a community-acquired case.

Last year’s Honolulu Marathon was canceled due to the pandemic. It was decided in October that this year’s event would be held without any restrictions on the number of participants, and online registration closed in November. According to the association, roughly 8,000 to 9,000 registrations were carried over from last year, so the actual number of participants could be as low as 5,000 to 7,000.

The marathon began in 1973. Anyone aged 7 or over who wants to participate is allowed to run the course along the coast. There is no time limit for running. The number of participants has been around 33,000 since 2013, with nearly half of them Japanese.

The economic impact of the event generated from accommodations, food and beverages amounts to about $140 million (about ¥15.8 billion) per year, of which 70% to 80% is spent by Japanese.

According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Japanese participants stay an average of 4.5 nights and spend about $250 per person per day.

As to why the event was not canceled for the second year in a row, the association’s president, Jim Barahar, 69, said, “We felt it was important to send the message that Hawaii was open and that an outdoor, healthy event could be conducted here safely.”