FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WHITE PINE, TN – “Wind and rain used to be my biggest point of anxiety,” says Lakeside of the Smokies Balloon Fest Director, Sarah Mills. “Now, I’m begging to worry about the weather!”
“Planning for the festival this year has been a bit ‘up in the air,’ if you will,” jokes Mills. Unfortunately, the LOTS Balloon Fest team has decided to cancel the 2020 event, and pivot planning to 2021.
The Lakeside of the Smokies Balloon Fest (LOTS Balloon Fest) held its premier event in October 2019. People from across the state, and even across the country, flocked to scenic White Pine, TN. Festival guests enjoyed a balloon display, wine garden, food trucks, kid’s inflatables, antique tractors, and a breathtaking view of the Smokies.
In early January, the festival began the process of filing as a nonprofit, charitable organization. “We received such positive feedback from our premier in 2019, that we knew we had to bring this festival back to the White Pine community in 2020,” Mills explains.
“The premier event last year brought something different and exciting to our community here in White Pine and for Jefferson County. We are looking forward to seeing the Lakeside of The Smokies Balloon Fest continue thriving and growing each year. I know that the balloon fest team will see this festival continue to grow and be a fun and exciting time for all who attend when the timing is right,” Mayor Glen cheerfully explains.
“When I started hearing whispers of impending shutdowns, of course my first thought was of the festival,” says Mills.
As the tourism world slowed to a stop, plans for the Lakeside of the Smokies Balloon Fest moved forward.
“We couldn’t predict what the fall would look like, so we continued planning through the ‘safer at home’ phase.” The LOTS Balloon Fest funds itself through ticket sales, sponsorships, and donations. “Naturally, connecting with sponsors and continuing to plan the festival was something that I could still do,” Mills says.
However, many businesses have suffered catastrophic losses to profits. Lay offs, loss of tax revenue, and forced closings are the reality of many of the festival’s sponsors.
“Sponsors have been so kind and encouraging, even if they have had to reduce or retract funds for this year” Mills reflects. “They want the festival to continue, but many have had to freeze all sponsorship funds in the wake of the economic crisis.”
Mills described the funds it takes to put on a balloon festival as “gigantic as a hot air balloon itself.”
Hot air balloons are not only expensive to ride in, but are also expensive to bring to events. But with large expenses, comes a huge fanbase. “People love balloons. They draw people from all walks of life. And all interests,” says Mills. “It’s well worth the cost to make such a wonderful event happen.”
As a newer festival, Mills says that the unpredictability of 2020 has made it challenging to assess budget needs. “More established festivals may have funds accrued across the years that they can dip into in a crisis such as this, but as we are a young festival, we’ve had to put our heads together and really think carefully about planning for 2020.”
As we were planning for 2020, one piece of the planning puzzle was finding a local property. Mills explains, “In 2019, we hosted the festival on a wonderful piece of land in White Pine, however this year we’ve had to change our venue, and finding a new piece of property during the pandemic has proven to be difficult. However, Jefferson County is rich in farmland and we feel confident we will be able to announce the new venue very soon.”
Initially, the team was looking into alternative options to accommodate for social distancing practices. But ultimately, had to make the difficult decision to cancel the event.
This is not just a local festival, “Mills explains.” People traveled from over 20 states to attend the festival in 2019. Each state has different restrictions and guidelines in place. We have to take our attendees’ travel restrictions amidst the pandemic into consideration as well.”
“Of course,” Mills says, “we’ve had to price out each option – we want this festival to return year after year and would rather be wise than broke by our second birthday.”
Vendors, balloon pilots, wineries, and food trucks all rely on local festivals and events to make their money. Pilots travel from across the country to participate in the event.
Scott Griswold is the balloon meister, also known as the man in charge of the balloons. He is a full time balloon pilot from New York State and explains how difficult the coronavirus has been for his business. “I’ve had all of my spring and most of my summer festivals canceled,” Griswold laments. “But, I get it, it’s very hard to social distance inside a hot air balloon basket.”
Griswold says he understands how the financial side of COVID19 has impacted the LOTS Balloon Fest planning. “Many festivals I attend have voiced similar concerns over loss of sponsorships,” he explains. He adds that one of his festivals decided to cancel based on the economic effects of COVID19 alone.
Mills adds, “We’re trying to make the best decisions for the festival that would allow all of our vendors and pilots to still earn an income. Ultimately, postponing the festival to 2021 with enough time so that our vendors and pilots can book other options this year was the best decision for us. We didn’t want to wait until it was too late for them to seek out other income opportunities.
You can find information about the festival by visiting the balloon fest website: www.lotsballoonfest.com. Anyone who purchased a ticket this year will have the option of applying their ticket to 2021 or may receive a full refund. If this applies to you, you should be receiving an email with instructions about how to proceed.
“As far as budgeting goes, we have made sure that refunds are a secure part of our budget,” Mills says. “Everything else may be up in the air, but we don’t want attendees to think their money is.”
As we receive questions regarding our COVID19 policies, we will post the questions and answers here.
Where can I find COVID19 information?
Are you still having the festival?
Yes. As of right now, we are planning to host the festival. We are closely following government and local authority recommendations for social distancing, and will make the best decision we can closer to the event.
Because the festival is so far away, we do not want to make hasty decisions.
We are continuing to plan for the festival as of May, 2020.
Should I buy a ticket?
That is completely up to you! We understand that during this unique season, you may hesitate to purchase festival tickets in the fall. However, if you choose to buy a ticket now, we can help you make an informed and confident decision.
We do want to assure you that we will refund any tickets purchased before October 1, 2020 for any reason.
Additionally, if we have to cancel or postpone the festival, we will offer full refunds to all ticket holders, or you may apply your ticket to the rescheduled date.
What is your refund policy?
We have two important aspects of our refund policy.
- Weather. If we are able to host the festival, we do not offer refunds for weather related issues. The event is a RAIN OR SHINE event, and if hot air balloons cannot fly, we have plenty of other festival activities to enjoy, and you will not receive a refund for parking passes. All canceled balloon rides always receive refunds.
- COVID19. It is possible that the festival will be advised not to continue if the coronavirus spreads again in the fall. We are hoping this will NOT happen, but we do have policies in place just in case it does. We will offer full refunds to ticket holders if we have to cancel or postpone the festival. If you would like to apply your ticket to the rescheduled date, you may choose to do so instead. We will notify attendees as far in advance as possible if we have to make a COVID19 related change.