By: Lindsey Clute
Chattanooga hosted its first ever Balloon Festival at Tennessee Riverpark on Friday and Saturday, but the event didn’t turn out the way event coordinators and attendees had hoped.
The event kicked off Friday, Nov. 1, at 4 p.m. Guests stretched out on blankets and chairs to get a good view for the event. Advertised activities included zip lines, bungee jumping, a mechanical bull, a 90-foot Ferris wheel, inflatables, rides, and a Kid’s Zone with games for the children. Multiple food vendors were there to sell food, and live music was also offered to the public.
Along with these activities, balloons were advertised as the main attraction, with the option for customers to purchase rides on the hot air balloons before concluding the night with a balloon glow in which all the balloons were to light up at once.
Due to weather advisories both nights, balloon rides did not go as expected. On Friday, the weather delayed the rides resulting in a shortened balloon glow at the end. On Saturday, due to 10mph wind gusts, event organizers decided that it would not be safe to allow customers to take rides in the hot air balloons. Because of complaints about a short balloon glow Friday night, customers could come back Saturday night for free to see it again.
Many customers said that they felt they did not get what they paid for and were upset that they were not offered refunds. They made known their dissatisfaction on the festival’s Facebook page. These comments were later deleted by the event organizer.
Among the disappointed customers was McKenzie Jaynes, who attended the festival on Saturday. “It was pretty cool to witness,” said Jaynes, “but I would honestly not spend that much money to go again. There was a lot of hype for very little activity. The space they had the event at was not equipped to handle the crowd. It was fun to see all the different style balloons and where they traveled from, but overall it was a bit of a letdown.”
Jeremy Kwaterski, CEO and organizer of the event released an official email statement in which he addressed the issues concerning the festival. “We feel that overall the Festival was a success,” said Kwaterski. “While we cannot control the weather, we know we need to make improvements on parking, shuttles, and traffic control and informing participants with better sound systems. We look forward to improving the festival considerably next year. We are confident that while we cannot eliminate all complaints, we can make the festival experience better for everyone.”
The hot air balloon rides were not the only cause for discontent. Many customers complained that they were charged an unfair amount for food by vendors. Kwaterski also addressed this, saying they will be cutting their ties with said vendors.
Amanda Reed, who attended the Friday show, agreed that the festival did not meet her expectations. “I’m glad I didn’t pay more than I did. It was a good idea but there’s just a lot that was missing or went wrong. I paid for a mediocre experience and got overcharged for food.”
Despite the numerous complaints, Kwaterski said that overall, the event went well, and he plans to have an even better result next year.