Experts: Sony Open’s crowds of big-spending visitors showcase benefits of sports tourism

Some 50,000 to 75,000 spectators are expected to pass through Waialae over the course of the tournament.
Published: Jan. 13, 2023 at 5:54 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 13, 2023 at 7:06 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The galleries at Waialae Country Club are packed with spectators for this year’s Sony Open.

That’s just what state tourism officials are looking for.

And those in the industry say the tournament is the perfect example of why Hawaii is a prime destination for major sports.

Some 50,000 to 75,000 spectators are expected to pass through Waialae over the course of the tournament, many of whom coming from across the mainland and around the world.

The Sony Open is back in Waialae. And so are its huge pre-pandemic crowds

“COVID restrictions being dropped is one of the reasons we decided to come this year and also it’s raining back home pretty bad,” said Northern California resident Vern Ayres. “So we wanted to get out of the rain.”

Escaping nasty weather for stunning and sunny Oahu was a running theme among many spectators.

The average stay for visitors during Sony week is seven days and Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association says that’s a snapshot of “quality tourism.”

“A respectful traveler, someone who’s gonna stay maybe five to seven days and is gonna spend money,” said Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association President and CEO Mufi Hannemann. “That’s gonna stay at our resorts and is gonna be able to generate additional revenue and make people feel very good because they’re gonna be working, they’re gonna be gainfully employed.”

One couple enjoying the action is planning for a lengthy stay after watching a PGA tournament in Kapalua last week and reservations to visit the Big Island for the PGA Champions Tour in the coming days.

“This is the year that we wanna do island hopping,” said Don Hill, who is visiting from Colorado. “We go to Maui, watch that one, zip over here and watch this one, and then we go over to the Big Island if it’s not blowing up and watch the seniors play.’

Altogether, those three tournaments can generate up to $75million in revenue, which is exactly why Hannemann is trying to find ways to foster Hawaii’s growth as a sports market.

A Pro Bowl return can’t happen without a viable stadium, however, there are avenues through basketball, surf, soccer, and rugby.

“I think the more that we can demonstrate that this is a place that welcomes that kind of tourism, and local people embrace it, there’ s no reason for them not to come,” Hannemann said.

“It makes it easier for people like myself in the industry to continue to promote and advocate that this is a great sports and film tourism opportunity in the state of Hawaii.”