Tourism is well and truly taking off again on the Tablelands after the first Hot Air balloons launched last weekend after nearly three months on the ground.
Hot Air who are the operators of the balloon rides stopped flying on March 22 due to COVID restrictions.
Greg Daven who is the Regional Manager for Hot Air said that due to border closures and social distancing they had to stop flying.
“Due to the COVID rules our business dried up, our numbers were also down due to the bushfires over Christmas and New Year.”
Mr Daven says that the business is now reliant on the government reopening the borders sooner rather than later “so much of our business now depends on the border opening and aviation access, the flight stoppages have really hurt our business.”
Last weekends flights were mainly locals who were keen to get up in the air.
“At the moment we are getting locals who want to go up in the balloons, it’s great to see locals enjoying the fantastic experience.” Mr Daven said
“But we can’t survive just on locals; we need the borders to reopen and some more domestic visitors to come through.
“In the past 80 per cent of our customers have been international visitors and I can’t see international visitors returning for about another 12 months.”
During peak season Hot Air can have 4 – 5 balloons in the air per day, with 24 people per basket and some of the balloons doing two trips a day.
This means Hot Air could be servicing around 250 people in a day and they had about 45 staff working in Far North Queensland.
Mr Daven says the balloons returning to the sky was a relief for him, his business and his staff “The amount of energy our or company has spent during the past three months with zero income has been taxing, to actually see a balloon fly again gave us all a sense of relief, it was fantastic to see,” he said
“We have also had great feedback on all the new safety protocols we have implemented due to COVID.
“With social distancing, we are only putting 16 people in a balloon and we have new segregation in the balloon compartments.”
“A lot of tourism businesses are now just after some certainty about border openings so that local accommodation providers and the airlines can start planning ahead.”