ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) — The numbers are in despite the reduced number of guests this year, organizers of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta say they are pleased with the turnout. Especially since last year’s event was canceled due to the pandemic.
“I thought we could come up with a reduction of around 20% compared to past years. So to come up with 10% off what we did in 2019, I was really surprised and thrilled,” said Sam Parks, COO of Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
Parks said he sold a record number of tickets within 24 hours when tickets went on sale in July when the state was fully reopened. However, he said online sales then fell as the delta variant became dominant statewide. In 2021, Balloon Fiesta welcomed 783,866 guests, compared to around 866,414 guests in 2019.
“No, that’s not surprising given that people are still reluctant to travel, I think, and maybe some people are still being deterred by similar mask mandates,” said Albuquerque resident Joe Reichert. .
“It surprises me in the sense that I know people really want to go out, they want to start going to events because it has been postponed. So, I expect a lot of people to go there. But I’m also not surprised because I feel like there may be fewer tourists this year,” said Mary Ann Maestas, another Albuquerque resident. “I didn’t go this year because I knew it would be very crowded and I didn’t want to face the crowds even though I’m vaccinated.”
Parks said one of the biggest challenges they face is international travel restrictions due to the pandemic.
“Many of our international balloonists couldn’t come here. So instead of having around 70 or 80 international pilots, we only had six,” Parks said. He said they also had fewer special shapes.
“Instead of having 100 to 110 special shapes, we only had 80. So we have been reduced this year due to travel restrictions. But people came out and we were happy to see them come out and see the show we had. Because we had 543 hot air balloons and it was still the biggest show in the world,” Parks said.
Parks said they are already expecting a strong turnout next year as it will be the 50th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. He said they were planning new events to mark the anniversary. The 50th Balloon Fiesta will take place October 1-9, 2022, and tickets go on sale in April.
Here are other numbers from the 49th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta:
- Total number of balloons registered: 543
- Total number of special shaped balls registered: 84
- Total number of registered pilots (primary and additional): 648
- Total number of America’s Challenge Gas Race teams: 4
- Total estimated number of visits: 783,866
- Total number of media organizations: 138
- Total number of registered media representatives: 787
- Total views on Balloon Fiesta Live: 693,043
Balloon Fiesta officials say there were seven countries represented this year from Brazil, Canada, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States. They say Noah Forden and Bert Padelt of the United States were the winners of the 24and America’s challenge. Forden and Padelt traveled 356.20 miles landing near Big Spring, Texas.
They say the first prize in the overall hot air competition was Zerek Welz of New Mexico and the second highest scorer went to Ray Bair of New Mexico and third to Joe Zvada of Texas.
Finally, Balloon Fiesta officials say more than 950 volunteers worked at this year’s fiesta and 650 landowners picked up X-Packs to mark their land as an approved spot for balloonists.