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Balloon Fest gets statewide recognition
October 28, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

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During their annual Nebraska Tourism Conference in Gering, tourism professionals from the Nebraska Tourism Commission recognized the 2015 Old West Balloon Fest … Re-Inflated as an outstanding tourism event for the state.

During their annual conferences, members of the Tourism Commission recognize events in 10 separate categories. The Balloon Fest was honored with the Outstanding New or Improved Event for communities with populations of 10,000 or greater.

“We submitted an application in the 10,000 or greater category because it took the combined efforts of Gering, Scottsbluff and Mitchell,” said Karla Niedan-Streeks, Executive Director of the Gering Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The award was for the 2015 Balloon Fest because of the timing when applications are submitted and chosen for awards.”

She added the commission is looking for events that had an impact on the community, the region, and the state. Although the Old West Balloon Fest was first organized in the 1980s, it was on hiatus, so it qualified for a new event.

“We focused a lot on how Mitchell, Gering and Scottsbluff were all involved in the event,” Niedan-Streeks said. “It took more than 300 volunteers to make it a success. We also focused on the number of corporate sponsors and the number of pilots the event brought in. This wasn’t just a local event. It had a national draw with balloon pilots from seven states taking part.”

She said the 2015 fest brought about 13,000 to the community to watch 18 hot air balloons take to the sky. Of those visitors, about 48 percent of them were from outside the area as hotels, motels and campgrounds were almost full for an average stay of two nights. The Balloon Fest Committee estimated the economic impact was just over $2 million.

Niedan-Streeks, who served as the event’s marketing coordinator, said she still receives hits on their website and calls from people who are interested in coming out for the 2017 balloon launch.

“The buzz is really on,” she said. “After two years of successful flying, that’s going to continue to build. “Most of calls I’m getting are from the Front Range of Colorado, where we’re advertising heavily.

She added the 20 balloon pilots from the 2016 event go home and share their experience with fellow pilots. In turn, that generates more interest about the potential for flying next year.

“Colleen Johnson, our balloon meister, is from Colorado she has a lot of communication with pilots around the country. She’s been one of our best promoters because she’s involved in a lot of other ballooning events as a pilot. The balloon meister is the person who deals with all the components that make for a safe and efficient ballooning event.”

The third annual Old West Balloon Fest is scheduled for Labor Day weekend in 2017. Balloons will again launch from the old Mitchell Airport and a number of activities are still being organized for the event.
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