ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) – Anticipation may have you noticing more balloons in the sky as the city prepares for its most notable event. Last year an estimated 886,037 people attended the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta which begins this year on October 5.
So far 559 balloons are registered for this year’s Fiesta which is eight shy of last year’s total of 567. As for special shapes, you can expect to see eight more than last year with a total of 104. Eleven new special shape balloons are set to debut this year.
Last year, balloon pilots from 14 countries were represented. This year there are 17 participating countries which include Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Kenya, Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and Thailand. This year marks the first time that Kenya and India will be participating in the festival.
X Marks the Spot
As more balloons go up, they must also come down. The city is becoming more developed; it’s increasingly difficult for pilots to find landing spots for balloons. To fix this, a pilot program sponsored by the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce launched last year.
More than 150 landowners picked up white Xs to mark their land as an approved spot for balloonists to land during 2018’s Fiesta. This year, the program has expanded to Rio Rancho and organizers expect the final number of participating landowners to be between 300 and 350.
“We think pilots are going to see more Xs than they’ve ever seen,” founder Jim Garcia told KRQE. Participants are awarded prizes and one grand prize for their contributions to Fiesta.
Balloons are not the only things flying above Fiesta Park. The FAA says it is forbidden to fly a drone within four miles of Fiesta Park, but last year, officials said there were 272 drone flights during the nine-day event with 46 flights occurring during temporary flight restrictions. Officials say a greater detection effort will be in place for this year’s festival, and those cited could face a fine and up to five years behind bars.
For those driving to Fiesta Park this year, plan ahead. Uber told KRQE that the first and last Saturdays of last year’s Balloon Fiesta saw the longest wait times and highest price surges for riders. As a matter of fact, Uber says the entire Albuquerque area sees about a 10% increase in ride-share trips taken during Fiesta as compared to the rest of the year.
Bookings on the vacation rental website, Airbnb, have also risen steadily in recent years. Airbnb tells KRQE that in 2017 roughly 4,600 people rented out their homes on the website and in 2018, that number jumped to 6,800. Final numbers for 2019 are not in yet, but Airbnb says it will likely be another year of growth based on current tentative bookings.
An Economic Lift
The overall economic impact of Fiesta continues to be one of the most lucrative times of the year. According to the most recent fiesta economic impact survey done by the research firm Forward Analytics, the 2017 Balloon Fiesta generated nearly $173 million for the local economy. This included nearly $10 million in tax revenues for the city, the county, and the state. Hotels are fully booked during Fiesta from Albuquerque to Santa Fe.
The direct impact was measured by the number of dollars spent outside Balloon Fiesta Park over the course of those nine days. The largest share comes from overnight accommodations, which was responsible for just over $40 million in 2017. Overnight accommodations were followed by $17.7 million from retail purchases. Inside the park, $19.25 million was spent on concessions.
The firm did not report for last year’s Fiesta.
To check out this year’s live stream, stay with KRQE.