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Greenville Business Magazine

The World Equestrian Games will add a stallion-sized boost to the Upstate economy

Sep 05, 2018 10:24AM ● By Chris Haire

Photos courtesy of Tryon International Equestrian Center

With cooler temperatures on the way, the dog days of summer are behind us. Yes, we’ll surely have a few hot spells from now until November, but the time of sweat and stickiness is in the rear view. Up ahead: the horse days of fall.

OK. That’s not exactly a phrase that anyone uses. Not now. Not before. Never.

But it does sum up what the Upstate will feel like September 11-23 when the World Equestrian Games arrives at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, N.C.

The games are expected to have a major impact not just on our neighbors to the north, but Spartanburg and Greenville counties as well, thanks in part to an invasion of some half a million horse fans, according to figures from the Fédération Équestre Internationale, the International Olympic Committee of the equestrian sports world.

Hotels in the two counties are expected to be packed and the sidewalks of the area’s two major cities are sure to be the temporary parading grounds for the sightseeing soles of WEG-goers from 70 different countries.

But to get an idea of just how big the games might impact local coffers, let’s look at the estimated economic impact of the WEG in Normandy, France, four years ago.

For starters, the 2014 games had a total economic impact of more than $400 million for the European nation and more than $200 million to the Normandy area alone, according to FEI. Meanwhile, the Normandy games saw an increase in spectator spending of 17 percent, $90 million, from the 2010 WEG in Lexington, Ky.

Attendance also rose from 2010 to 2014, with 575,000 buying tickets for the Normandy games and 507,000 for Lexington. FEI says the 2014 WEG was the “fifth biggest sporting event of the year in terms of attendance, and greater than the attendance statistics” of that year’s Wimbledon.

In Spartanburg County, the hospitality industry is preparing.

“6,000 hotel rooms have been set aside just in Spartanburg County,” says Chris Jennings, executive vice president of the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. Jenning notes that cities like Spartanburg and Landrum will offer attendees a respite from the WEG, a chance to explore each town’s offerings, from cute shops to culinary stops. “Hopefully, they will make the rounds.”

And for a county like Spartanburg—whose CVB, Jennings says, can’t compete with Greenville, Charlotte, or Asheville—it’s the type of exposure that money can’t buy. “We are the little engine that could,” Jennings says.

Flush with the economic rush of Carolina Panthers training camp, one of Spartanburg’s biggest seasons will get an added jolt. “It’s a good time of year normally. We’ve got a lot going on here,” Jennings says. “It’s going to be a good time for the world to come see the Carolinas.”

For the folks at euphoria, Greenville’s signature food and wine festival, the WEG couldn’t be happening at a better time. The two events overlap, with euphoria running September 20-23.

Not surprisingly, euphoria hopes to woo WEG attendees to attend the food fest.

“We are currently working with Visit Greenville through our digital grant with them to promote euphoria to the WEG attendees,” says euphoria Executive Director Morgan Allen. “We plan to use geo-targeting and keyword searches to target that audience digitally. We will focus some of our social media-sponsored posts to this audience as well.”

While there is currently no indication that WEG-goers are scooping up euphoria tickets, Allen hopes that will change as the two events approach. “We plan to promote euphoria within our local hotel partners the week of the event, hopefully capturing some last-minute attendees,” Allen says. “We will likely end up doing some marketing at Tryon for those two weeks, but we have not secured anything as of yet.”

Of course, those in the tourism biz hope that first visit turns into a second or a third. Based on past WEG, return visitors are likely.

“Staging a major international sporting event such as the FEI World Equestrian Games provides the ideal platform to showcase the region to domestic and international visitors,” an FEI spokesperson says in response to questions from Greenville Business Magazine. “As an example, 81 percent of the Normandy 2014 games spectators interviewed for the study stated that they would recommend the region as a holiday destination and 75 percent were more likely to return in the future.

“With an anticipated 1,000 athletes, 1,500 horses, and 500,000 spectators from more than 70 countries expected to attend, this edition of the games is going to be epic at all levels.”

It goes without saying that the Tryon games will need an army of workers to make sure the WEG will go off without a hitch. While there are no firm numbers yet, the FEI says, the Normandy games “employed 182 full-time staff to work at the event, as well as a 3,000-strong volunteer force.”

“There will be a need to have some temporary folks for the two weeks of the game,” says Sharon Decker, chief operating officer for the Tryon International Equestrian Center, noting that those workers will not only have to staff the games themselves but the World Equine Expo. Decker says Tryon has also been working very closely with the South Carolina branch of the United States Department of Agriculture and Clemson University.

Decker and company also worked to get the North Carolina General Assembly to make it easier to field veterinarians from outside the Tarheel State.

“We also just got passed in the North Carolina Legislature a bill that will allow veterinarians from other states and countries to work within that two-week period in support of the games without paying a license fee,” Decker says.

Clemson’s Dr. Boyd Parr is one such South Carolina vet who’s been enlisted by WEG. In fact, the official South Carolina state veterinarian and the director at the Clemson University Livestock Poultry Health has been working with the Tryon International Equestrian Center for quite some time to prepare for the games.

“We were invited to work over the past year and a half with not only USDA, but also the state veterinarian in North Carolina, Dr. Doug Meckes, and his staff with the N.C. Department of Agriculture as they developed the animal health protocols and procedures for the WEG to help assure the games go smoothly from an animal health standpoint without significant additional risks to domestic horses.”

Parr and his team will also be helping with the WEG as some 550 horses are flown into Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport.

“With the majority of horses competing set to enter the U.S. through GSP airport, at CULPH, our primary task, in the scope of our normal responsibilities, will be to monitor the GSP import process to provide assurance to South Carolina producers that no significant new risks are posed to their livestock by these importations,” Parr says.

The Clemson veterinarian notes that a test event was conducted in April that included importing a small number of horses through GSP. “I was impressed with how efficiently GSP personnel and everyone else involved were able to safely unload the horses and get them on their way to post-entry quarantine at Tryon International Equestrian Center without actually touching the ground in South Carolina,” Parr says. “As a result, I feel confident that everything is in place to handle the South Carolina portion of the games at GSP.”
As fate would have it, Parr and others were given the opportunity to tour the site of the Lexington games in 2009 to show them how they were preparing. “Little did we realize that state animal health officials in North Carolina and, to a lesser extent, us in South Carolina would be in their shoes eight years later,” Parr says. “Kentucky has been a valuable resource to us as we have prepared for these games.”

Be that as it may, Parr is looking forward to the WEG, saying, “How can you not be excited to have some of the best horses from all over the world competing in multiple events in your backyard with over a half-million spectators?”