Addis Ababa-based Abyssinia Ballooning, the joint venture between Netherlands based ballooning company Virgin Balloon Flights and a local Ethiopian business partner, is set to expand its market into the towns of Debre Zeyit, Awassa and Bahir Dar.
Since its launch in February last year, Abyssinia Ballooning is expecting its second-passenger balloon before the end of 2013 and expects to operate 5 or 6 balloons in Ethiopia by 2017. While it has operated more than 30 balloon flights with over 300 Ethiopians and foreigners having been taken up since February 2012, this number still pales in comparison to neighbours Tanzania and Kenya where balloon trips currently number more than 30 trips per day.
Chief Pilot and founder Bram van Loesbroek explains that despite its innovation and uniqueness, the project has not been without its rough patches, though he believes the future is bright, given the the ongoing rise in tourists visiting Ethiopia.
"People seem to think that ballooning is big business, but when I explain about the costs involved they understand that much more is involved than they thought of before," said Van Loesbrook. "Also ballooning is new in Ethiopia and the first 12 months of operation generated quite a big loss as the service and its safety needs to be known to people. Now slowly our business is growing and hopefully we will manage to break-even in 2013 and make the first profits in 2014 and onward. Ballooning can be a successful business but it needs time to get known and develop."
Following research into the feasibility of flight areas in Ethiopia in 2010, an extensive business plan was submitted and awarded a 3-year matching grant from the Agentschap NL, a part of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs grant program which helps Dutch Entrepreneurs to start innovative businesses in emerging markets through joint-venture initiatives with local business partners.
Ballooning, especially that aimed at the tourism trade, has become a hit in various African countries with Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Egypt, Morocco, Kenya and Tanzania all offering packages.