Dave Kinney has worked with Balloon Fiesta, to provide a unique guest experience for Balloon Fiesta’s Gondola Club goers, for nearly 15 years.
In this month’s Inside the Basket, Dave shares his passion for balloons through the introduction of his personal ballooning hobbies and Balloon Fiesta background. From chase crewing to training navigators, he provides great insight into some of Balloon Fiesta’s most exclusive options.
1. Give a brief overview of your Balloon Fiesta position.
I am a Co-Team Leader with Kate Johnson of the Gondola Club. I have been with the Gondola Club since 2003, two years after it was created in 2001. Kate, Debbie Reynolds and I became Co-Team Leaders in 2011. In 2014, Debbie headed up a new program called Gondola Club Ambassadors. Kate and I continue to lead the overall Gondola Club. As Team Leaders, we work to ensure the best possible experience for our guests. The Gondola Club is considered one of the premiere locations at the Balloon Fiesta. Our guests are transported from a special parking lot to the Club by our navigators. At the Club, we introduce our guests to the area and show them that they have the best seats in the Balloon Fiesta along with an excellent buffet meal whether breakfast or dinner. We have a tremendous navigator team who understand that the guests have paid a significant price to be here and show them the best in guest service. Kate and I oversee the training of the navigators, setup of the Club and most importantly see that our guests are satisfied.
2. What is your favorite part about being involved with the Gondola Club?
This is a twofold answer. First, just meeting all the guests from around the world and seeing their excitement in watching the balloons. I have met so many wonderful people and have seen several come back in following years. Next, is working with such a terrific team of navigators who dedicate themselves to making the Club the best place to attend Balloon Fiesta. They get up very early in the morning and work until late in the evening. You couldn’t ask for a better group.
3. What experience do you hope to provide Gondola Club attendees with?
In the first year of the Gondola Club, there were approximately 100 guests. Over the years the capacity grew to 500 guests per session. This year we are expanding the Gondola Club to a capacity of 650 attendees each session and half of the sessions are already sold out. I give you this information as a statement of what we do for our guests’ experience. We want them to learn about and understand what the Fiesta is all about. We have pilots along with regular navigators who spend time talking to the guests about ballooning, what is going on throughout the park and what happens in Albuquerque. Also, being sure they get a quality meal and leave with a smile on their face is all a part of the experience. We would not have grown to this size if this isn’t what we provide each year.
4. Do you have a favorite balloon?
In the off season, I do help chase for a local pilot and enjoy that experience as often as possible. However, at the Fiesta itself, I am in total awe of the special shape balloons especially the very largest ones. Since I know what it takes to launch and land a regular sized balloon, I can’t imagine the work it takes in managing those beautiful special shape balloons. Perhaps someday I will get a chance to work on one of those balloons.
5. What advice do you have for Balloon Fiesta guests visiting for the first time?
The number one thing is to have FUN, FUN, FUN!!!!!!!!! Take time to go out on the field and talk to the pilots and their crews to learn about the sport of ballooning. Attend both a morning and evening event to get the full experience. Be sure to visit Concession Row for all kinds of New Mexico Cuisine, art and other goodies. But do remember to dress in layers as it is usually cold in the early morning and warms up fast when the sun comes over the mountain.