ADDIS ABABA, Feb. 22 (Xinhua) -- When Bram Van Loosebroek, a Dutch expat living in Ethiopia approached Ethiopian authorities to open the country's first hot air balloon company about eight years ago, he was met with a combination of skepticism and amusement.
Speaking to Xinhua, Loosebroek, who has around 25 years' experience in operating hot air balloons and is currently General Manager at Abyssinia Ballooning Private Limited Company, said he had to overcome initial skepticism from Ethiopian authorities to start the business venture.
"I came to Ethiopia in 2011 on a vacation, but also to see the potential in hot air balloons sector. In the beginning government officials were concerned about my business initiative, thinking a foreigner had come to open a new transport sector," he said.
Ethiopia until recently prohibited foreigners from owning shares in transport sector and Loosebroek had to convince Ethiopian authorities hot air balloons are leisure activities, not a form of transportation.
"I had to convince government officials it was a fun activity designed to assist the tourism sector in Ethiopia, and not intended to be competition for the likes of the national air carrier, Ethiopian Airlines," Loosebroek told Xinhua.
He said Abyssinia Ballooning PLC initially had almost exclusively European and North American customer base, but now he is witnessing an increasing interest from Ethiopia's large Chinese community as well as Ethiopians themselves.
"My hot air balloon business is becoming so popular, now customers are doing their wedding proposals and wedding honeymoons aboard the hot air balloon, adding a romantic element to my business," said Loosebroek.
Abyssinia Ballooning PLC charges around 4,000 Ethiopian birr (about 140 U.S. dollars) for 45-60 minutes of hot air balloon flying experience.
Currently the firm undertakes the hot air ballooning activities on the relatively flat lands in the outskirts of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa.
However, the firm plans to start in April 2019 hot air ballooning activities in Gheralta mountain range in northern Ethiopia, giving potential customers a variety of opportunities to enjoy Ethiopia's landscape.
Herman Huygh, a Belgian expat in Ethiopia, told Xinhua he has used the services of Abyssinia Ballooning along with other colleagues as a way of experiencing new ways of fun and adventure.
"I think many people are scared to do balloon flights. But, there is no reason to be scared. Even if you are afraid of heights you still can experience a balloon flight, so I would recommend to everyone whether young or old to experience it," said Huygh.
Huygh said his home country's size and windy nature has meant there are few opportunities to experience hot air balloon trip, contrasting it to Ethiopia's geographical location for hot air ballooning experience. "I think ballooning is the perfect way to really get close to landscape. If you stand on the ground you can only see what is in your immediate surroundings, the combination with the silence of the occasion makes the experience special," he said.
"Nowadays in our professional life there is too much noise. When we work, when we are in traffic, it's always noisy. Hot air balloon flights are a form of leisurely silence from the endless noise of everyday life," Huygh told Xinhua.
Huygh further said Ethiopia can emulate neighboring Kenya's success in attracting tourists using hot air balloon flights on top of game reserves and national parks, creating an additional sense of adventure.