Vietnam can run away with race gains

October 31, 2023 | 10:00
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Marathons are not only attractive sports events that offer access to local culture, but can also bring huge revenues to the tourism industry and individual localities if done right.
Vietnam can run away with race gains
Marathon lovers visit countries not just for the race itself, but to experience that nation’s culture, cuisine, and more

Pu Luong Nature Reserve in Thanh Hoa province, the venue for Vietnam Jungle Marathon 2023, welcomed the participation of more than 1,500 runners from 40 countries last week.

Runners had the opportunity to explore nature and experience local culture during the event, with flexible distance races from 10km up to 70km. “It was amazing, and a wonderful route with stunning views. We passed some very remote villages and children would give high-fives along the way. I loved it, it was like a dream for me,” said Jean-Henri Haniquaut of France, who won the 70km contest for men.

The Vietnam Jungle Marathon 2023 was organised by Topas Vietnam Trail Series, owner of a raft of professional marathons such as the Vietnam Mountain Marathon, Vietnam Trail Marathon, and Vietnam Ultra Marathon.

“I remember when we started promoting the Jungle Marathon in Pu Luong back in 2017, and most people didn’t know where that was, but our races have raised the tourism profiles of these areas, particularly Pu Luong and Moc Chau,” said David Lloyd, director of Topas Vietnam Trail Series.

“Our races have undoubtedly had a large positive impact on the tourism in the areas where we operate. On race weekend, we bring thousands of runners and their supporters to these regions, which clearly gives a direct economic boost. However, the impact spreads far wider and over a longer period of time,” Lloyd added.

Promoting a strong image

One week earlier, the sixth Hanoi Marathon Heritage Race also took place, bringing an opportunity to promote tourism in the capital by gathering up to 12,000 registered runners, including more than 600 athletes from around the world.

Dinh Linh, general manager of the race and a renowned runner in the Vietnamese runner community, said that the organisers hope to make the run a major part of the Hanoi experience so that those taking part will feel more attached to the city.

“The race is not only a sports event but also a cultural event. When running through the routes around Hanoi, runners will experience the cultural space and see the most beautiful landscapes and daily life of the Hanoian people,” he said.

This year, runners had the opportunity to compete with world-ranked marathoners such as Dino Sefir, Askale Margasa, and Jebesa Dabesa at the Hanoi marathon, which plays an important role in promoting marathon races in Vietnam, and its image, abroad.

“It’s great that organising boards are starting to bring in foreign runners because if you don’t have them, the international press has nothing to write about and, basically, your event remains just a local event,” said Larry Barthlow, director and strategic consultant.

The Heritage Race is organised by DHA Vietnam Company, the owners of two similar running events taking place every year in Can Tho and Halong.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Tri, general director of DHA Vietnam, said inviting the world’s high-ranking professional runners to compete at the Hanoi Marathon Heritage Race is a testament to the determination of the organising committee to raise the race’s international level.

“The event will make more efforts to create a playground joined by world-class runners so that domestic runners get the opportunity to compete and improve their achievements, contributing to bringing Vietnam’s marathon movement to new heights,” Tri said.

Generating economic value

According to Dinh Linh, the organisation of marathons in Vietnam faces unique problems compared to internationally, mainly in the two factors of traffic and climate.

“Other countries can close roads for up to half a day to organise marathons because the roads are wide. In Vietnam, everyone’s lives will be affected as well as all the traffic. The hot and humid climate also makes foreign athletes hesitate to come to Vietnam,” he said.

However, beyond the logistics, Linh declared that the economic value of a marathon is huge because the runners often take the whole family and combine a race with travel and culinary experiences.

“The New York Marathon’s revenue is $400 million, and the Chicago Marathon attracted 45,000 participants, causing the population in Chicago to increase by 10 per cent in just a week, and hotel room prices also tripled,” Linh said.

Barthlow said he understood the value that these types of races bring to localities. “You have to start small and develop over the years as it becomes more important to sponsors to get more international. As well as the likes of New York, you can look at the Honolulu Marathon, which generates over $100 million in revenues. In general, when people come to a city they do more than just race, and they spend money,” he said.

Being aware of the important contribution of marathons in promoting local tourism, many cities and provinces in Vietnam have organised annual races to allure both foreign and domestic travellers to their localities.

There are now around 50 marathons or half-marathon races each year in Vietnam, not counting smaller events. One example that gained traction this year was the Hue Marathon, reportedly the largest such event in Vietnam. Taking place in Thua Thien-Hue province in April, the race attracted approximately 10,500 athletes. During the three days of the tournament, the province welcomed over 32,000 visitors and achieved revenues of $2.34 million.

Nguyen Manh Hung, general secretary of the Vietnam Athletics Federation, said that running can become one of the most developed sports in Vietnam because the running community is blooming, it is easy to train for, and there is increasing coordination between tournament organisers and localities.

“Running is a popular sport, suitable for all ages, is good for health, and does not require much in terms of facilities,” Hung said. “At the same time, the sport forms large communities that share information about running shoes, outfits, and nutrition. In addition, bigger events can attract thousands of people. Thus, it is an opportunity for sponsors to promote their brands very well.”

Many cities and provinces have contacted the federation, wanting to coordinate in organising marathon tournaments, he added. “This is especially so for small provinces because they see the potential for economic and tourism development through this area,” Hung said.

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