Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Canceled Due To COVID-19

Hot-air balloons preparing to launch at Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

The 49th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, usually held the first week of October, has officially been postponed to fall of 2021 due to concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus.

An official statement from the Balloon Fiesta’s Board of Directors states they had worked hard to ensure that the event would still occur this October — deliberating on various ways in which the city, and the Balloon Field, might safely accommodate the estimated 866,000 attendees over 9 days, per the Balloon Fiesta website — but that health concerns were too great to continue planning for this year.

“The safety of our pilots, guests, sponsors, staff and volunteers has always been our top concern and in the wake of COVID-19 and its continued impacts, we must stay dedicated to upholding that commitment.”

This is the first year since its inception that the Balloon Fiesta has been canceled.

When the inaugural 13 balloons launched from the Coronado Center Mall in 1972, pilots flying in the Fiesta represented just a handful of surrounding states. Now, pilots travel to New Mexico from 47 of the 50 states, and from numerous countries outside the U.S.

Over the last 20 years, the historic southwestern celebration has grown to become the “largest ballooning event on earth.” It is also known as the “most photographed event in the world.” An estimated 25 million still photographs are captured there each year.

Spectators watch as hot-air balloons lift off from Balloon Fiesta park during the 2018 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

Those who have enjoyed the visually stunning experience in person describe “the massive canopy of color.” One travel reviewer called it “simply magical” and “breathtaking.”

In addition to daily ascensions, the Fiesta hosts a bevy of unique events to keep attendees engaged over the week. There are numerous balloon glows (an after-dark event where the balloons are inflated, but remain tethered to the ground), balloon races, and the Special Shape Rodeo, which celebrates the most unusual designs.

The New York Times reports that prior to yesterday’s cancellation, Albuquerque was scheduled to host about 700 pilots, 600 balloons, and 1650 RV reservations on the balloon field’s permanent 350-acre site this October.

All guest reservations, pre-purchased tickets, and RV spaces at the official park will be retained, and can be used for the 2021 event. Refunds are being issued on request, but future guests can also donate their tickets if they are unable to attend next year.

While New Mexico is in the early stages of reopening some of the state, there’s no real timeline for when large gatherings will be allowed to resume. Along with the rest of the country, the state is still unsure what the coming months will mean for infection rates related to the coronavirus pandemic.