The second edition of the recently concluded International Hot-Air Balloon Festival at Araku Valley (130 kilometres from Vizag) was a product and destination-specific tourism promotion exercise. The uniqueness of the approach was in seeking larger footfalls by curating a unique and customised product. The festival was a resounding success, evident with the tremendous interest generated amongst tourists. Over 2600 enquiries were made by consumers, who were willing to shell out as much as INR 79,000 for a three-night ‘Glamping’ experience. The initiative has showcased a successful working model for investment and is likely to boost Andhra’s tourism fortunes, equally encouraging other states to look at innovative means of tourist and investor outreach. A report from Araku, Andhra Pradesh: 

A view of the festivities from the balloon.

The second edition of International Hot Air Balloon Festival at Araku has firmly established the pristine valley as a potential attraction for tourists, equally for leisure and adventure segments. The three-day festivities saw a plethora of participants, 20 balloons from 15 countries such as India, France, U.K., U.S.A, and Spain, floating across the clear skies of the valley, much to the delight of locals and media who lined up to witness the event.

The idea behind the initiative was to highlight a “working model” to the larger industry, Kaushik Mukherji, Principal Advisor, Andhra Pradesh Tourism Department said. The brainchild behind the undertaking, he suggested that Andhra Pradesh was eyeing a different approach than the rest of the states, with a focus on promoting individual destinations. He argued that the state was mindful of not to venture on a trodden path, taken by states such as Goa and Kerala. “We are not competing with these states. Our focus on the destination and experience-centric outreach sets us apart,” he said. “We received over 2600 firm enquiries from customers looking at spending 1 to 3 nights in the tents with a price of INR 30000 per night to INR 79000 for 3 nights,” he added.  He mentioned that the model had showcased the possibilities of ‘Glamping’ in the region, justifying the effort behind such a noteworthy undertaking.

An aerial view of the luxury camps. Tucked in the valley, the camp provided for some stunning backdrops of the Eastern Ghats.

Given the new-found attraction and limelight, the question of sustainability of the pristine tourism product and responsible tourism also came to fore. He pinned his hope on new-age travellers who were “better informed” and more likely to make the right decisions. He quipped that the newly sprung up adventure centres, operated mostly by locals, with scant regard towards sustainable practices, were nothing more than “mom and pop stores”, destined to be rejected by new-age travellers.

Speaking on the possible guest profile, he agreed that besides the adventure segment, MICE was an equally important segment and bound to grow in the days to come. “We have showcased that the model works and has the potential to become a successful tourism product. It is now for the investors to come and make the most of it,” he reasoned.

The event was attended by the who’s who of the state machinery. Minister of Tourism, Andhra Pradesh and Kidari Sravan Kumar, Minister of Tribal Welfare, Andhra Pradesh, among others were seen at the venue.

The event saw hot-air balloon pilots dazzling the sky with their unique and colourful balloons, in varying shapes and sizes. “Happy Chicken”, “Bee” and “Baby Car” found special traction among the attendees.  Seen alongside the balloons were para-motorists showcasing their flybys, daredevil stunts and aerobatics. The excitement was palpable as massive crowds thronged the venue with their long wait finally coming to a breathtaking end.

The evenings were lit up with night-glowing balloons. The lucky draw winners enjoyed an exclusive experience of a tethered flying session. The guests and dignitaries staying at luxurious camps were treated to a special ‘Dhimsa’ dance performance by tribal dancers and a rendition of some retro hits by a live band in the evening.

With the successful completion of this edition, the International Hot Air Balloon Festival is expected to return next year with a bigger and much grander show bringing more attention to a thoroughly world-class product.