Tourism official says event showcases county's charms
The World Team Challenge will be shown Jan. 28 on the Outdoor Life Network, enhancing the area's image.
By DAWN REISS
Published December 12, 2005
CRYSTAL RIVER - Drinking champagne and Corona, World Team Challenger competitors reveled in their success. They posed for photos with yellow-ribboned medals hanging from their necks and cheered on fellow team members who waved flags as they ran across the grassy finish line at the Plantation Inn.
The celebration Saturday completed a two-day, five-stage outdoor adventure race run by Challenger World, an international company based in London that develops corporate team-building competitions.
Sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of Plantation's Magnolia Room, Mary Craven, Citrus County tourist development manager, who helped bring the event to Florida, reflected on the project that began nearly two years ago.
"I'm very happy," Craven said. "The people that I have encountered, both the participants and VIPs and sponsors, have been very taken with the area and I'm thrilled."'
The event came to Citrus County after Craven met Andrew Finan, Challenger World managing director, at an International Adventure Travel Show in Chicago in January 2004. She was promoting Citrus County and Finan needed a place to host the event. Challenger World later selected the county for its second annual World Team Challenge.
Minus one celebrity team of Survivor/Amazing Race competitors who pulled out at the last minute because of injuries, 26 teams competed in World Team Challenge.
The Citrus County Tourist Development Council and Citrus County Economic Development Council hosted the event and paid a combined total of $50,000, Craven said. The exact amount of money spent by Challenger World in Citrus County is not known.
The events, which included canoeing, running and hiking that were combined with logic puzzles and other mental challenges, were in places such as the Withlacoochee State Forest, the private property of Holcim Ranch and Whispering Pines Park.
Finan said it was necessary to keep details of event times, locations and activities a secret from the public to give an element of surprise to the four- and five-person teams and "help team bonding."
Craven isn't sure what the direct impact will be from hosting this event but anticipates the raised awareness is twofold: She hopes World Team Challenge will "expose Citrus County to the world" and on a more local level, make Citrus County residents more aware of the visitors bureau's programs and efforts.
"Many of the marshals that were recruited (locally) didn't know we had a visitors bureau in the county," Craven said.
Because of the secrecy surrounding the event, it was hard for the public to attend any of the events. Only one stage, a Friday night event at which the teams met at Whispering Pines Park and played a form of baseball, was made public. A team of four people had to run to various points in the park and answer strategy questions. A correct answer was worth various points. After accruing four points, the team would then race back to the baseball diamond and run around the bases to score home runs. This timed event continued for two hours. Fewer than 10 people viewed the event.
Craven said it was hard to provide public access because some of the events were held on private property or could only be viewed by a boat.
"It was a real small turnout," Craven said, but later added that "public viewing wasn't critical to success of the program."
She hopes the real reward will come from television exposure. Finan said the event will be broadcast Jan. 28 on the Outdoor Life Network, or OLN.
"What makes this a success?" she asked rhetorically. "Fantastic exposure on television, OLN not running it just once, but multiple times, and other networks possibly picking it up."
Craven said the contract that was signed with Challenger World did guarantee a minimum of one-hour program event on OLN, but isn't sure what else, if anything will be additional to that.
Challenger World rotates venues and announced that next year's competition will be held in Malta.
In a few weeks, Craven will travel back to Chicago for the International Adventure Travel Show.
"I'm looking forward to January," she said. "It'll be interesting to see what happens."
--Dawn Reiss can be reached at 352 860-7303 or firstname.lastname@example.org