Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta postponed until 2021

The 49th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta won't happen in 2020.

Citing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, event organizers announced Monday that the 49th event will be postponed until October 2021. It will be the first year since 1972 without a balloon fiesta in Albuquerque.

"Balloon Fiesta is an event that brings our community, city and state together to host thousands of pilots, volunteers and guests from around the world," read Monday's announcement, which was posted on the organization's website. "When Covid-19 first began to impact our world and eventually our community, our non-profit organization held out hope to still launch our event this October. However, with only three-and-a-half months left until the planned start of Balloon Fiesta, there are many variables that are out of our control, potentially impacting the health and welfare of our attendees.

"The safety of our pilots, guests, sponsors, staff and volunteers has always been our top concern and in the wake of Covid-19 and its continued impacts, we must stay dedicated to upholding that commitment."

The decision to postpone the event was made last week during a board meeting, said Matt Guthrie, the president of the Balloon Fiesta Board of Directors.

Waiting longer to make a decision would have created a "financial vulnerability" for the Balloon Fiesta and its support organizations, said Balloon Fiesta Director of Operations Sam Parks. As the event date drew closer, he said, companies working to stage the event would be spending increasing amounts of money toward an event that, ultimately, will not happen.

About 80 vendors were vying for approval to conduct business at this year's event, Parks said. While the organization took vendor applications, it had not yet approved them in anticipation of the coronavirus pandemic interfering with this year's plans, Parks said.

The Balloon Fiesta had various contingency plans for this year's event, Parks said. The first was a completely normal showing. The second was what Parks called a "Balloon Fiesta lite," which would have allowed less attendees. The third would have been an online event with no guests on the field, and postponing it was the last resort.

The decision by Balloon Fiesta officials will impact New Mexico artisans, food vendors, hotels and other Albuquerque businesses. Last year's event drew an estimated 866,000 visitors and provided an economic impact of more than $186 million for businesses in the Albuquerque metro. The 2019 event also saw a 70 percent increase in first-time visitors, according to an economic impact report released by the organization.

"The postponement of the Balloon Fiesta demonstrates how the Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the tourism economy here in New Mexico and throughout the world," New Mexico Tourism Department spokesperson Cody Johnson said in a statement to Business First. "Tourism will be vital in our ability to rebound, but we still need to ensure public safety is our top priority.

"Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the New Mexico Tourism Department has supported all efforts to keep the public safe – and we know this difficult decision was made with the health and safety of New Mexicans in mind."

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