Melaka plans to offer hot air balloon rides as part of the state’s tourism attraction.—…
Shahirah Hamid Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore 16 March 2017
While we all know that hot air balloon rides are popular in destinations such as Turkey, Dubai and in nearer countries such as Australia and Myanmar, very few Singaporeans know about the ones available just across the border.
Malaysia’s first commercial hot air balloon rides company, My Balloon Adventure, offers picturesque 45-minute journeys across the country’s administrative and tech capitals, Putrajaya and Cyberjaya, respectively. Their basic package, which includes pre-flight refreshments and a breakfast spread, is priced from RM$850 (S$270).
My Balloon Adventure is run by sisters Izzati and Atiqah Khairudin.
“If you look at hot air balloon prices in other countries, we are quite reasonable. Most would do their own research, and they find that [in] places like Bagan, Myanmar, the hot air balloon packages are about US$300 (S$420); or in Cappadocia, Turkey, it’s about the same or maybe slightly cheaper,” said Izzati.
She added, “However, theirs are not as intimate as ours. We still want to have that intimacy between the pilot and the passengers. At the end of the day, it’s a novelty ride that we take seriously and we want passengers to have that one-on-one communication with the pilot (as well as) the hands-on experience.”
My Balloon Adventure is owned by parent company AKA Balloon, which is a family-owned business launched in 1994. The sisters, who are also well-known in Malaysia for being the country’s first balloonists, took over in 2013 after the sudden demise of their father. AKA Balloon has been the pioneer in commercialising and organising two of Malaysia’s annual hot-air balloon events, namely the My Balloon Fiesta and the Penang Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.
Izzati, 30, and Atiqah, 28, started My Balloon Adventure in 2015 and currently the duo have set their eyes on expansion to Borneo, once resources allow.
“For international tourists, it’s good value for money for them especially now with the weakening ringgit. Also, there are not a lot of hot air balloon rides available in this region so it is something different,” Izzati said. To date, My Balloon Adventure has flown more than 250 passengers.
Passengers can also expect to fly with experienced hot air balloon pilots, assist the pilots with the packing of the balloon, and walk away with a certificate of flight completion signed by the pilots themselves. According to Izzati, 80 per cent of their passengers are made up of tourists, with 10 per cent of them being Singaporeans.
“For My Balloon Adventure, I think it’s really picking up. Malaysians are not familiar with the pricing of a hot air balloon flight, while for tourists, they are not aware that such attraction is available. But word really got out that hot air balloon ride is available in Malaysia now all year round. Our Tripadvisor reviews are getting stronger as more people are aware of the service we offer,” said Izzati.
Keeping the business aloft
“All of us take turns because flying can be tiring. We wake up at 5am and after every flight, we still have to go back to our office. So, it’s a long day and tiring day for us. Like the end of last year, we were flying so much, non-stop from Christmas to New Year’s Eve, so it’s a good thing we have a pool of pilots we can rotate,” reveals Izzati. Including Izzati and Atiqah, My Balloon Adventure has a total of five balloon pilots.
Currently, My Balloon Adventure has four sets of balloons, which can carry between two and 10 passengers at a time.
My Balloon Adventure operates almost every day except on Wednesday and every first Monday of the month. For customers with special occasions to celebrate, such as a wedding proposal, they can also assist with the arrangements.
Popular for wedding proposals
Atiqah, who also manages AKA Balloon’s public relations and marketing divisions, has been the go-to person when it comes to wedding proposals. “I have arranged easily three to five proposals every year. Before my customers want to pop the question, my first question to them is ‘how long have you guys been together? Does she know you guys are getting married?’,” said Atiqah.
“The most recent one we had, this guy actually blindfolded his girlfriend and asked her to wear a VR headset so she can’t see or hear where she is. He carried her in the basket and their friends were on the ground and each friend held one letter saying ‘Will you marry me?’. The guy removes her goggles so she could see her friends holding the placards. We were not so high, I think we were at about 100ft. He got on one knee and she said ‘yes’!”
“I think I have arranged too many proposals on the balloon basket,” quips Atiqah.
Best way to conquer your fear of heights
While people’s fear of heights has caused them to shun away from enjoying hot air balloon rides, it’s not the case for passenger and marketing manager Karen Yap. She conquered her fear by going on a hot air balloon ride – twice.
“I’m afraid of heights, but I enjoyed the hot air balloon adventure. I love the scenery and watching the sunrise while looking (at) the horizon. I love every bit of the experience!” said Yap.
“I decided to try it out again and this time, I had to share (the) amazing experience with my cousin, and her fiancé,” explains Yap.
Her cousin, Isabel Lau, also conquered her fear of heights on the ride. When she discovered that no safety gear was provided, she became worried, but ended up enjoying it.
“It was something I have never done before. It was very exciting! The entire trip was pretty smooth. It’s very chill and the weather was perfect too,” said the 29-year-old bride-to-be.
“I wouldn’t mind going on the ride again! I really appreciate what Karen did for both my future husband and I, for treating us to this wonderful opportunity,” she gushed.