With a “skyscraper” above Lake Balaton

For more than a decade, Balaton Ballooning Kft. has been providing world-class service with one of the largest hot air balloons in Europe. We asked Gábor Kollár about his responsibility in offering unique experience, the know-how of ten thousand cubic and fifteen hundred square meter.

The service provided by you has been operating in the world for 34 years, and in Hungary for 13 years. How did it all start? Did an international franchise look at Hungary as a potentially interesting location, or did a parent company already operating abroad establish a subsidiary here?

My later business partner set up such a company in New Zealand 34 years ago, then expanded to Germany, Dubai and Italy, after he contacted me that he wanted to start this service at home, as he is also Hungarian, so we started in 2008 - first as a branch of a German company, two years later as an independent enterprise.

I guess it's no coincidence that Lake Balaton and its surroundings were chosen. Because of the beauty of the landscape or the power of tourist attraction?

As it is business, we had to focus primarily on having a sufficient number of passengers, so we chose the Hévíz and Lake Balaton area, because here, in Hévíz, the season lasts all year round, and this is favourably complemented by the summer Lake Balaton season. Nevertheless, I undertake to fly over the most beautiful landscape in the country. It is extremely important to make the flight attractive to passengers. If we ascend here, the passenger can see Lake Hévíz, Lake Kis-Balaton, Lake Balaton, the Tanúhegy of the Balaton, the hills of Zala - all together unparalleled natural beauty.

How seasonal is this service?

We operate from April 1st to October 31st - we could actually fly in the winter, but the weather is rarely suitable for that, so it would not be profitable to maintain the business then.

Who is the target audience? Tourists, families, foreigners, Hungarians, by age?

At the beginning, the number of foreigners was a little higher than the more Hungarian guests came which gradually shifted from year to year, and today Hungarian passengers are clearly in the majority. The target audience really includes anyone who is past six years old and in a state of health that can stand in the balloon for an hour. In summer, from July to mid-September, many local tourists are on holiday in Hévíz and are supplemented by passengers from all over the country, who often receive the trip as a gift - nowadays the trend is that people give more and more experience, we also sell more and more gift vouchers.

What distance does a hot air balloon cover during such a tour? To what extent does it depend on the weather, the wind? Are the routes mostly the same?

We take off from the Keszthely area. The path and speed of the balloon is determined by the wind and is in the air for about an hour. With stronger winds, we go further, if weaker, we get closer. On average, we tend to move away from Hévíz  in 10-15 km distance. We fly over Lake Balaton many times and then we head towards Szentgyörgy-Keresztúr, a frequent direction of flight over Kis-Balaton is the area of Zalakaros-Zalavár, and the flight towards the Balaton Uplands, including Sümeg-Tapolca. Since we climb to 1000-1500 meters at this time, it really doesn't matter where we fly, Lake Balaton is beautiful, the view is amazing, wherever the wind takes us.

Can you see almost the whole of Lake Balaton from this height?

Yes, under normal weather conditions, the Tihany Peninsula or even Siófok is perfectly visible.

What can we know about one of the largest balloons you use in Europe? How big is that? What makes it special?

It is a hot air balloon built specifically for walking flights, made in England, in Bristol, with a passenger capacity of 18 passengers and a pilot. The size of the balloon dome is huge, 10,620 m3, standing on its base together with the inflated hot air balloon basket is 35 meters, which is more than 11 floors tall. It’s so big because you have to lift a lot of weight. A capacity of about 3 m3 raises one kilo, so a weight of 3 tones requires a capacity of at least 9-10 thousand m3.

What does the service look like after landing, given the special circumstance that it is never predictable exactly where they will arrive in advance?

I'd start with the departure. In the 20 km area of Keszthely-Hévíz, we pick up the passengers at the pre-arranged locations, go to the starting point, after a short safety meeting we inflate the hot air balloon - it is extremely spectacular, it is on its feet in 10-15 minutes. The passengers board, we get up, approx. we are in the air for an hour and then we land in a suitable place where the wind has taken us. Meanwhile, the ground crew with our own vehicles - which is an SUV and a bus - follow the hot air balloon, according to the pilot’s instructions, and by the time the balloon lands, the ground crew is already there on site with the cars, after the passengers land they have a little ceremony, with ice-chilled champagne, toasting, registered diplomas signed by the pilot. Meanwhile, the ground staff packs up the hot air balloon and once we have all the technical details, we take all the passengers back to the point where we met them. Thus, from meeting to return approx. 3 hours for the entire program.

How would you encourage cautious types of people who are wary of extremities?

It is important to note that the whole program is a very easy, calm relaxation, a real, family experience that does not involve any physical strain or stress, as the balloon slowly rises, sinks or changes direction, while the sight provides an unparalleled experience.

« back