Wed, Jun 12, 2013 - Page 11 News List

Flights of fancy

What it’s like aboard the Angry Bird at the Taitung Taiwan International Balloon Fiesta

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Staff Reporter

Community Support

The ground crew, who had been in close contact with Wechter as soon as the balloon began its descent, was quickly on site, and helped manhandle the basket out of the field and onto the road without any damage to the trees. The farmer was all smiles again after his moment of anxiety.

Chen explained how the nature of ballooning made the sport something intimately connected to the local community, and said two places each day on the very limited roster of free flights have been reserved for Taitung residents. Wechter added that many places where he has ballooned hold events for the local community, sometimes offering free rides or prizes, to express appreciation for community support of the sport.

The Angry Bird, after its near entanglement, settled undamaged in an open field and the crew got to work packing up the huge balloon. Chen spoke about how in the past Taitung, with its relatively undeveloped tourism infrastructure, had difficulty keeping visitors before they moved on to somewhere else. She said the ballooning fiesta would provide a reason for a longer stay and help develop associated tourism businesses such as restaurants and guesthouses.

One guesthouse owner who did not wish to be identified questioned why the county government had chosen the summer vacation period to hold the event, as this is already their period of peak occupancy. It was during the rest of the year that he had trouble filling rooms, and a high-profile event such as this at some time other time would help balance the flow of tourists through the year.

Chen said that sponsorship deals for balloons had already been worked out with the Nan Shan Life Insurance Company (南山人壽), whose branded balloon has taken part in the festival, and there will probably soon be another corporate sponsorship for Taitung’s own Chulu Ranch (初鹿農場). Chen said that Taitung had adopted the strictest guidelines regarding the assembly and certification of balloons so that these balloons would be able to travel anywhere around the world, benefiting their corporate sponsors wherever they went. Taitung now has five balloons of its own.

The tethered balloons had been going up and down throughout the morning as the Angry Bird balloon had wandered the skies, providing the kind of views and the sensation of blissful drifting through space that until now, Taiwanese have had to travel overseas to enjoy. When the ground crew got back to Luye Plateau around 7:30am, everything had been packed away and the crowd of balloonists had gone home, and the field of Luye Plateau seemed even emptier than it had at dawn. “People are still not used to the very early start,” Chen said, but added that the afternoon flights would attract larger crowds and people would become savvy to the special delights of seeing the balloons in the dawn light.

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