COVID-19 prompts cancellation of Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta for the first time in its history

Organizers of the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta on Monday announced the cancellation of the annual October event for the first time since it launched in 1972 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The cancellation is a major blow to New Mexico’s tourism economy. An estimated 850,000 people attend each year over its nine days. The cancellation of such a flagship event underscores how seriously the pandemic is being taken.

Matt Guthrie, president of the fiesta’s board of directors, stated on its 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 Balloon Fiesta’s volunteer board of directors and 20-person staff have brainstormed many different ways to make the 49th event occur this October. We’ve created various contingency plans and approaches but know that all of those fail if someone contracted COVID-19 as the result of attending our international event. For that reason, we are postponing the 49th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta to October 2-10, 2021. Guest reservations, tickets and RV spaces will be unchanged and can be used for the 2021 event. We acknowledge some guests might not be able to join us next year, we respect your choice and have directions to accommodate other options on our website. Of course, we hope you will continue to support us by using your existing reservation for the 49th event in 2021.

The New Mexico Department of Tourism issued a statement:

“We support the extremely difficult decision to postpone the 49th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. 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.
“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. Tourism will be vital in our ability to rebound, but we still need to ensure public safety is our top priority.
“We look forward to collaborating with the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and other community partners on the event in the future.”

New Mexico has banned public gatherings since March because of the pandemic, and state officials repeatedly have said they don’t expect it to be lifted until a vaccine is developed within the next 12 to 18 months.

The neighboring states of Arizona and Texas also have seen steep increases in coronavirus cases in recent weeks. Though New Mexico has kept the disease’s spread mostly under control in May and June, officials publicly have expressed worry that COVID-19 will spill over from those states — especially during a popular event such as the balloon fiesta.

Through Monday, coronavirus has infected at least 2.3 million people in the U.S., with more than 120,000 deaths.

Here’s a video from the fiesta that probably will whet your appetite for the 2021 event:

(Image from the 2015 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta by Edward Mitchell via Flickr)

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