The SA Hot Air Balloon Championships – A Different Look at Eventing

Event Africa Contributor 28/06/2019 Industry Events
South African Hot Air Balloon Championship Event

In an industry that primarily consists of boardrooms, businessmen and power point presentations, we take a look at something a little different – The South African Hot Air Balloon Championships.

We chat with Sarah Bauling, Event Manager behind the event, in order to find out what goes into planning and organising an event of this magnitude.

South African Hot Air Balloon Championship Event

What is this event?

The event is the South African Hot Air Balloon Championships 2019, and ultimately what we’re looking for is the South African champion who will represent South Africa in 2020 at the World Hot Air Balloon Championships.

You were very fortunate enough to grab a great sponsor, Afrox, how have they been?

They have been phenomenal. Everything we’ve asked for, they’ve said ‘Yes, and what else would you like?’

From the event perspective, logistically, how taxing was this event?

Logistically, if we’re organising an event for nine competitors, or 29 competitors, the amount of work that actually goes into it is the same. We’ve got so many factors to consider, from what does the welcome event look like, the entertainment, who’s coming, what’s the food, what’s the drink, how can we give sponsors exposure. That’s one aspect.

Then we look at it from a day-to-day basis in terms of what are we’re doing to create awareness for the event to get the public here so that we have an atmosphere. Because that atmosphere inspires the pilots, and it’s what creates something truly magical. We’ve also had to look at the logistics of how do we get that information out there, considering we are weather dependent, so there may be days where we have to cancel due to bad weather.

And we’re also looking at pilots and what their requirements are throughout the event. Which is everything from printed rule books and printed maps to the extra special things we do for them in terms of personalised banners, personalised mugs; the things that actually make those competitors come back year-on-year.

So there’s many different departments of logistics – it’s been quite hectic. And the joy of it, because it’s an event that’s a little bit different, you get someone like Lauren Bowen, the event coordinator, who runs her own business but has raised her hand and said, ‘I want to be involved in that event’, because A) it’s a fun event and B) it looks great on the portfolio.

But the people have been amazing, they’ve raised their hands, they’ve stepped in and the team itself has been phenomenal.

South African Hot Air Balloon Championship Event

How does an event like this, with such an incredible sport, help attract awareness to the sport and also drive tourism to the area?

We wanted to get a lot of key media people out at the event which creates awareness for the sport, through various mediums, whether it’s paper, print, TV, or radio. And through that, people see ballooning as something that’s different, something that they may not have thought of before and then obviously want to get involved in whichever way they choose – whether it’s in a personal capacity, or from the corporate side – where companies can come and do something wonderful with their teams.

From a leisure perspective, bringing in tourism, bringing in incentive travel, is there a hook to attract more of this through an event like this?

Definitely and what happens, because there is awareness created, people read things differently, so someone might read it and go, ‘Oh great, a corporate event’ but in the same breath go, ‘Oh my gosh it’s my wife’s birthday next week, this is an amazing thing to do’ and because we’re having the event in the Magalies River Valley, an area that offers some of the best hot air ballooning weather in the world, we’re in a position where people are suddenly seeing that this area exists. Of course, there’s a lot more going on here than just ballooning, so once they’re in the area they’re able to take advantage of all the wonderful opportunities that are available to them.

South African Hot Air Balloon Championship Event

You’re obviously very involved with Bill Harrops Balloon Safaris, and you’ve sponsored the venue. From a sponsorship perspective, how have you found this event and how does it assist in driving business to your shores?

There’s been so many advantages. If we had to look at the directness of it and say absolutely, this is the return we got on this event; we’ve had great media exposure, they’ve had access to our club house, to the facilities we have available, which most people are not aware of. So it’s given us the opportunity to showcase our product through the media as well, on the back of the event.

In terms of the unspoken and the non-measurable; it’s probably even more enormous than one can imagine. We’re the leaders of commercial ballooning in South Africa, and we’ve stepped up to the plate and said, we’re going to put something back into our community. And the joy of that is that we have the opportunity to engage with balloon operators that we generally wouldn’t. Not because we’re unsocial, but because half the pilots are from the Drakensburg. We don’t have that opportunity to sit around and have a meal together, EVER. An opportunity like this, we’ve got together, and made new friends, because of this event. And you can’t put a price on that. It’s unbelievable how it’s impacted us in our own ballooning community.

Obviously with an event like this, safety is paramount. How vigorous is your safety guidelines from an event management perspective as well as from directing the pilots?

From the safety side, there are two aspects we look at. First and foremost we have a safety officer whose assigned to the event. He looks at various things from safety of weather, right through to the things that we don’t think about, like checking the baskets of each balloon to make sure there’s nothing sharp in case balloons collide, they’re not going to rip a gaping hole in each other.

And obviously, our biggest factor is weather. So, what we’ve got, and we’ve been very fortunate, is that WeatherSA sponsored a specific person to be here for the duration of the event. She’s working very closely with our event director, each morning and each evening, looking at the weather, looking at the possibilities, looking at safety etc.

Something else interesting that happened on Monday morning, one of the favourites of the event, the BumbleBee Team from KZN, which is probably the most well-known team, found something wrong with their balloon and had the courage to step down. As pilots and event organisers we respect that, and it wasn’t 100% safe for the pilot to fly. And there will be times in this competition where there may be a pilot who’s not comfortable, and he will make that choice to step-down or not.

Who’s your favourite team / pilot? And who can we expect to take first place?

Dannie Minnaar is always such a fierce competitor, and we saw that last year. He comes to win, he’s focused, he’s an unbelievable competitor to have on board. In the same breath, you look at last year, the gentleman who came 4th, Daniel Honeyball, who was the youngest competitor last year and surprised everyone by coming 4th.

Our pilots are out here to give their best, and they’ve flown their hearts out. Dave McGregor insisted on landing back at base even though time was expired. But that’s how fierce this competition is.

South African Hot Air Balloon Championship Event

An event like no other, the South African Hot Air Balloon Championships, proves that event planners and event organisers need to be flexible, and able to change and adapt to the circumstances.

The South African Hot Air Balloon Championships ran from 23 June – 28 June 2019.

Visit Bill Harrops “Original” Balloon Safaris Facebook page for updates and information about the event.

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