ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The numbers are in despite seeing fewer guests this year, Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta organizers say they’re happy with the turnout. Especially since last year’s event was canceled due to the pandemic.

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“I was thinking that we might come in at an about 20% reduction to years past. So to come in at 10% off of what we did at 2019, I was really surprised and pleased,” said Sam Parks, director of operations for Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Parks said they sold a record amount of tickets in the 24 hours when tickets went on sale in July when the state was fully reopened. However, he said online sales then slumped as the delta variant became dominant across the state. In 2021, Balloon Fiesta saw 783,866 guests, compared to about 866,414 guests in 2019.

“No, that’s not surprising considering people are still hesitant to travel I think, and maybe some people are still deterred by like mask mandates,” said Joe Reichert, an Albuquerque resident.

“It surprises me in the sense that I know people really want to get out there, they want to start going to events because it was being postponed. So, I’d expect a lot of people to go. But I’m also not surprised because I feel like there are maybe fewer tourists this year,” said Mary Ann Maestas, another Albuquerque resident. “I didn’t go this year because I knew it was going to be very crowded and I didn’t want to deal with the crowds even though I’m vaccinated.”

Parks said one of the biggest challenges they faced was international travel restrictions because of the pandemic.

“A lot of our international balloonists couldn’t get here. So instead of having somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 or 80 international pilots, we only had six,” Parks said. He said they also had fewer special shapes.

“Instead of having 100-110 special shapes, we only had 80. So, we were reduced this year as a result of the travel restrictions. But the people came out and we were glad to see them come out and see the show that we had. Because we had 543 hot air balloons and that was still the greatest show on earth,” said Parks.

Parks said they are already expecting a big turnout next year since it will be the 50th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. He said they are planning some new events to mark the anniversary. The 50th Balloon Fiesta will be October 1-9, 2022 and tickets will go on sale in April.

The following are more numbers from the 49th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta:

  • Total number of registered hot air balloons: 543
  • Total number of registered special shape balloons: 84
  • Total number of registered pilots (primary and additional): 648
  • Total number of America’s Challenge Gas Race teams: 4
  • Total number of estimated guest-visits: 783,866
  • Total number of media organizations: 138
  • Total number of registered media representatives: 787
  • Total number of views on Balloon Fiesta Live: 693,043

Balloon Fiesta officials say there were seven countries represented this year from Brazil, Canada, France, Mexico, Netherlands, Switzerland and U.S. They say Noah Forden and Bert Padelt of the U.S. were the winners of the 24th America’s Challenge. Forden and Padelt flew 356.20 miles landing near Big Spring, Texas.

They say the first prize in the hot air overall competition was Zerek Welz, of New Mexico and the second overall highest score went to Ray Bair of New Mexico and third to Joe Zvada of Texas.

Lastly, Balloon Fiesta officials say more than 950 volunteers worked this year’s fiesta and there were 650 landowners who picked up X-Packs to mark their land as an approved spot for balloonists to land.