Gas Prices and Tourism: An Interview With Eliav Cohen of Seattle Ballooning

It’s no secret that inflation is having a significant impact on the wallets of the average Americans. Purchasing gas is becoming as painful as going to the dentist without a pretty smile at the end. Still, there’s hope that summer tourism will pull through, despite the drastic rise in gas and other petroleum-based fuels.

Recently Wealth of Geeks writer Rebecca Holcomb sat down with Eliav Cohen, CEO and chief pilot of Seattle Ballooning. The hot air balloon ride company, specializing in flights near Mount Ranier, is based in Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cohen was willing to discuss the rising cost of gas and propane, how it has affected his business, and its more considerable impact on tourism.

1) So, Eliav, I’d like to talk about how rising gas prices have affected your business. Have you seen any disparity between where your revenue was last year and this year? 

Yeah, so we’re up about 300% from a year ago, given we raised our prices 30% at the start of 2022, and honestly, we’ve seen no negative impact on bookings. The price increase hasn’t seemed to affect our bookings in the slightest.

Seattle Ballooning2) Do you have a season for running hot air balloon rides? 

Yeah, our regular season runs from May 1st through September 1st in Seattle, and this year we’ll be going up to Walla Walla in the fall, and we’ll run from early September through November.

3) As a tourist attraction, have you seen a difference in where your clients are coming from regarding regular bookings?

So, we’re getting a lot more people from the Seattle/Tacoma/Olympia areas and not so much from western Washington. And a lot of our bookings are coming from out of state, places like Florida and Texas. Some people are booking three or four months out because they’ll be flying into Seattle for business or pleasure and want to fly while they’re here, as sort of a bucket list item.

There was so much that the pandemic stopped us all from being able to do that; now, people want to check those things off their bucket lists and spend their time making memories.

4) Do you anticipate a drop in bookings as the season gets underway?

Not really. We’re still two weeks from the start of the season, and we’re booked…we’re booked pretty far out.

5) The cost of petroleum-based products like gasoline and propane is rising steadily, alongside other significant inflation prices that are on the rise. Has the rising cost of propane cut into revenue specs for this year?

So, we use around 400 to 700 gallons of propane a day, and that price and the price of gas have doubled in the last month. We went from 3 something for a gallon of gas to $5.50. So our costs have doubled for propane, but because we raised our prices by 30%, we’ve managed the rising cost and still have money to reinvest back into necessities.

My company buys new balloons every three to four years, because I believe in having the best equipment. Commercial hot air balloons normally last eight or nine years, and there are some companies that will extrapolate that benefit, but we serve a higher echelon of clientele and work with a lot of business owners and large groups. For me, that means replacing my balloons and making sure we have the best equipment available.

Ballooning, the Lost Sport of Aeronautics

The New York Times reports that brand new hot-air balloons, which carry 2-3 people, can cost upwards of $40,000, certainly a hefty investment. The balloons Eliav Cohen operates as chief pilot at Seattle Ballooning, however, are commercial grade, carrying 8-12 people, and cost $100,000 brand new.

However, the cost is of little consequence as Cohen sees the investment as paramount to ensuring his clients have a safe and enjoyable experience. If you’re looking to replace an entire commercial rig, including a van and trailer for transportation, you’re looking at an easy $175,000.

Another investment comes in paying his pilots well and in teaching a new generation of young people not just to enjoy but embrace the sport of hot air ballooning. Mr. Cohen started a program in 2021 to help recruit young people from minority backgrounds into training to become pilots.

Their program caught the attention of Amazon Studios, which released “The Aeronauts” in 2019 to document the beginnings and last hay-day of hot air ballooning. Thanks to their collaboration, Cohen’s company received a replica of ‘The Mammoth,’ the balloon that was featured in the film, for use by students.

Mr. Cohen elaborated on his program, exuberantly explaining, “There have only been two black commercial balloon pilots in the United States in the history of ballooning. So, now we have all these young women of color sixteen to twenty-one learning to fly, and it’s amazing to see.”

If other balloon companies are doing as well as Eliav Cohen’s Seattle Ballooning, there will undoubtedly be plenty of work for those new pilots. And even if gas prices and propane costs continue to stay the same, it seems that Mount Ranier, the prominent backdrop for most of Mr. Cohen’s flights, will still get plenty of camera time as Cohen’s schedule for 2022 is already booked solid and the season hasn’t even started yet.

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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Featured Image Credit: Seattle Ballooning.