By: Joey Garrand
2 min read January 2021 — The “Winter Equestrian Capital of the World” is again hosting its famous Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) but things are a little bit different this year. Most notably, the Festival will not be allowing spectators due to COVID concerns.
The festival, organized by the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Florida, started Jan. 6 and will continue until April 4. “There are no spectators, and we’re not going to have any,” said Michael Stone, president of Equestrian Sports Production, in an interview with CBS12 News. “There’s a lot of social distancing, and everyone has to wear masks even with members of the same family. It has created a big expense for us.” Although spectators can’t watch in person, they do have the option to tune into live streams or through television programs.
The impact on the economy as a result of the restrictions in place remains uncertain. “People don’t really understand the scale of it. It’s $138 million over 12 weeks for the local economy. We provide $13 million in prize money,” Stone said. CBS 12 said the event raised $286 million for Palm Beach County last year, while the Palm Beach County Sports Commission stated it resulted in $173 million in direct visitor spending. Whatever the actual impact may be, it’s a lot, and many are curious as to how the pandemic will affect the event’s economic outcome this year.
As reported by local news, Stone and other organizers believe the economic impact of the event will be greater this year, and there are a couple of reasons why. First, the onset of the pandemic cut the festival short last year by a couple of weeks. This year, the festival will last 13 weeks rather than the normal 12. Second, many travelers are planning on staying in the area for an extended period of time due to Florida’s relaxed COVID restrictions and the hassle of traveling during a pandemic. Not only are riders staying longer but the horses are as well.
Missing out on the over 250,000 spectators who typically attend the event will undoubtedly hurt the organizers of WEF. As well, the over 100opens PDF file food and retail vendors who typically attend will also be hurt by the slack in tourism.
More than 6,500 horses, with a collected net value of over half a billion dollars, have historically competed at WEF. In fact, the shutdown of other equestrian events around the world is resulting in additional competitors, with many countries using the WEF as their selection trials for the rescheduled 2020 Tokyo Olympics (July 23-Aug. 8). These horses, and their owners’ lifestyles, must be maintained while in Wellington. Stone stated that the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center had a 20 to 30% increase in business last summer as many riders made Wellington their home base amid the pandemic environment.