There has been mixed reaction to recent news that Wellington is one of five communities from across the globe in contention to host the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games. Also bidding for the honor are Rabat, Morocco; Bromont, Canada; Budapest, Hungary; and Vienna, Austria. While those in favor of Wellington being chosen are gung-ho about the idea, others are wondering if it’s even feasible. And though it will be a difficult bid to win and a challenge for Wellington to stage, we feel the village is up to that challenge and should be ready to do what it can to make it possible. Should Wellington be chosen to host the games, it would be a major win for the community, leading to a years-long boom as planning takes place, with the possibility of major sponsors taking root in Wellington, many of whom could stick around for the winter season moving forward.
Held every four years, the FEI World Equestrian Games take place in the middle of the Olympic cycle. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of spectators, the games bring in hundreds of the world’s top equestrian athletes and horses, as well as loads of media attention. According to estimations by Equestrian Sport Productions — which manages the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center — World Equestrian Games visitors would spend 260,000 bed nights in South Florida.
Of course, all of this assumes Wellington is even chosen, which is a big if. After all, it was only two years ago that the United States hosted the World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Ky. Some have suggested it is unlikely the games will return to the U.S. so soon. Perhaps, but as Equestrian Sport Productions President Michael Stone pointed out, Wellington does offer unique qualifications that no other bidding venue can match. Wellington has the majority of the necessary equestrian infrastructure already in place, and has a decades-long track record of hosting the longest-running horse show in the world. What this bid needs is backup support, and not just from Wellington. Palm Beach County, and even the State of Florida, need to come out strongly in favor of this in order to strengthen Wellington’s hand in the bid process.
A study of the 2006 games held in Aachen, Germany revealed an economic impact of $291 million. This is $41 million more than Super Bowl XLIV brought Miami in 2010. Because Florida’s economy is still heavily reliant on the tourism industry, this is exactly the kind of thing we need. One thing that separates Wellington from other host cities is that it already is a world-class equestrian destination. When Olympians left Calgary in 1988, that was it — most had no reason to return. When the World Equestrian Games leave Wellington in 2018, there are liable to be many European riders, trainers, horses and even equestrian brands who had heard about Wellington but had never been here before, and decide they want to stay. That is the very definition of an investment.
So, yes, we know this won’t be easy, but as a community we should try to rise to the challenge. Wellington didn’t become synonymous with horses by accident. The Winter Equestrian Festival didn’t just come here by chance. Wellington became what it is because people were willing to take a chance on it. And this is one of those opportunities.