by Burak Akinci
ANKARA, July 4 (Xinhua) -- With dozens of colorful hot air balloons decorating the sky, Turkey's Cappadocia, known for its fairy chimneys and unique landscape, kicked off on Wednesday its first hot air balloon festival to lure more foreign and domestic tourists.
The Cappadocia International Hot Air Balloon Festival from July 3-7 was organized by the Urgup Municipality in the central Nevsehir province. The opening ceremony saw a night glow event with a balloon inflated and lit up in sync with pulsating rhythmic music.
During the event, some 150 hot air balloons will take six different flights every day, and 20 balloons of various shapes from nearly a dozen countries, including France, Belgium, Slovakia, Germany and Brazil, will take to the skies, Halis Aydogan, a balloon pilot and partner of Voyager Balloons, who is organizing the event, told Xinhua.
"I have been dreaming of such a festival for years, but now it has come true with many participants and we will do our best to provide rides that our visitors will not forget until the end of their lives," explained Aydogan who expects the festival to become a traditional event in future years.
Cappadocia is the most popular location in the world for hot air ballooning. Last year, over half of the world's balloon trips took place in the region, with more than half a million people taking to the blue skies.
The region has 239 registered balloons, with up to 150 balloons flying on any given day. It is also one of the few places in the world where tourists can balloon almost year-round.
The price of hot air balloon tour ranges from 130 U.S. dollars to 180 U.S. dollars depending on the duration. Some 537,000 tourists took the hot air balloon rides in 2018, boosting tourism revenues, according to tourism professionals.
In the past, there have been a few balloon accidents but organizers assure that compared with the number of flights each day, these incidents are minor.
"There are strict regulations imposed by the Civil Aviation Administration for the balloon operating process. There are even rules that are only enforced in Turkey, so flying in a balloon is very safe," Aydogan pointed out.
Cappadocia is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is famous for its unique "fairy chimney" rocks, hot air balloon trips, fascinating underground cities and chapels dating back to the first Christians who fled Roman persecution.
Many boutiques so-called cave hotels, carved into rock, offer a unique glance of the otherworldly region to visitors from dozens of countries including China.
"Chinese visitors are very interested in the features of Cappadocia and each year thousands of them come here, the balloon festival will provide a fresh impetus to tourism here," said Korhan Aker, owner of a tourism agency in Cappadocia, to Xinhua.
Growth in Turkey's tourism sector has outpaced the global growth rate, by growing by 15 percent in 2018 to reach 95.6 billion U.S. dollars, representing 12.1 percent of the entire Turkish economy.
Aker, who is a veteran tourism professional, pointed out that "hot air balloon flights have become a trademark of Cappadocia" over the years, as pictures posted on social media have brought a keen global interest to the rides.
"You need to book your flight months in advance or you will not be able to find a seat," he said, adding that Turkish balloon pilots are experienced and fully respect the rules and regulations of civil aviation. Therefore, "the festival will offer visitors the opportunity to see the unique magical scenery of Cappadocia."
The hot air balloons are being tracked by a GPS system, allowing the speed limit and distance of the balloons to be detected at any time of their flights by land technicians.