NEW YORK -- Although endurance sportsmen attempting to circle the
globe by balloon may have had little luck lately, tour operator
Buddy Bombard has coaxed a quarter-century of pleasure and profit
from the lighter-than-air wonders by recognizing that quality --
not quantity -- is a key to success.
Bombard, founder, president and "travel host" of West Palm
Beach, Fla.-based luxury tour operator The Bombard Society, has
personally run high-end balloon tours of Europe since 1977, when --
leveraging 11 years' experience as founder and operator of the
Chalet Club travel group -- he organized an air tour of France's
Burgundy, Champagne and Loire Valley districts for a few
Along the way, Bombard and friends -- dangling from two gondolas
-- languidly skirted the treetops on short hops between historic
sites and the estates of local friends.
"I thought I'd done a wonderful one-off thing," Bombard
reminisced. "The trouble was, my friends came home and told
everyone how wonderful the trip was."
The following year, 78 people had signed up to fly, and The
Bombard Society was up and running.
Today, Bombard has hosted more than 10,000 flights and celebrates
his 25th anniversary in the business with his 2001-2002 brochure,
which features 12 programs in six destinations, including Italy,
Switzerland and Austria.
Up, up and away
Each of the 24 trips applies the lessons learned that first
journey over the Loire, according to Bombard, running five to 10
days, with low-level flights over cities or countryside aboard
three or four balloons.
Bombard himself is on every flight. "I like to be there to make
sure it's running the way I like," he said, noting he's never
missed a trip.
"That personal touch is one of my secrets."
Bombard also has never had an accident, thanks to restriction of
flights to winds moving at less than 8 mph.
That policy has ruled out trips to certain otherwise attractive
destinations, he said. "I would have loved to have done Provence,
but it's just too windy there," he said.
In addition, participants are based at one hotel for the entire
stay, and return for the night after a day's flying, rather than
actually transversing a region by sheltering at various points
along the way.
"The program just wouldn't work as well any other way," said
"The calmest winds are at sunset and sunrise," he explained.
"I'd much rather be based out of one city and fly local and not
"That way, we invite interesting local people to fly with us for
the day, and they often invite us to lunch or dinner."
For example, highlights of Bombard's six-night Tuscany: the
Medieval Splendor of Siena and its Palio tour, based at Siena's
Park Hotel, are exclusive visits with local nobles such as the
Baron Ricasoli of Tuscany and Princess Irina Strozzi of San
The baron opens his villa to Bombard clients for a private
luncheon, while the princess includes her 520-year-old home -- with
"all the bric-a-brac out," said Bombard -- on the tour every
"This is not your standard tourist fare," he said. "It's a real
treat for Americans to meet these people and see how they live."
Surprise landings at farms and villages are also common on Bombard
Flights of fancy
Other trips scheduled for the season include winter excursions
to the Swiss Alps, some including participation in the
International Chateau d'Oex Alpine Balloon Festival.
Highlights of the Alps, priced at $7,828 per person, double,
land only, (with a $621 single supplement), is scheduled for Feb. 1
to 6, Feb. 6 to 11 and Feb. 11 to 16.
Accommodations are at the Le Grand Chalet in Gstaad, and the
rate covers all meals (including in-flight, two-hour gourmet
luncheons) and wine, balloon and ground transportation, guided
sightseeing and all attraction entrance fees.
The expanded version, with four extra days spent flying en masse
with 65 other balloons from all over Europe, is $11,471 per person,
with a $962 single supplement.
That itinerary takes off Jan. 16 to 24 and Jan. 24 to Feb.1.
Bombard acknowledged his trips "are not inexpensive" but attract
clientele of all means.
"Everything is value received and then some," he said. "I have a
staff member for every guest; that's five staff for each
English-speaking local college students, known as "Red Shirts,"
serve as Bombard's chase crew and tour guides.
"People wonder how we can do it for what we charge," he
Down to earth
Half of the business at The Bombard Society -- a Virtuoso member
-- is repeat, and half comes from travel agents.
"Travel agents are some of our best customers, and they repeat
bookings the most," said Bombard, who pays a standard 10%
"I am very aware of the agency network as my sales force,
because I don't have my own," he said, adding that no further
expansion of product range was planned at press time "because I
don't have any more time for marketing."
In the end, Bombard may soon stop flying every last balloon trip
he sells, as he's "just been doing it all for so long" that he's
looking for help.
"But I'll always balloon; it's just too much fun," he said.
"Landing in funny places, 'kidnapping' grandmothers for a ride --
and we call this work!"
For more information, call (800) 862-8537; fax (561) 837-6623,
or e-mail [email protected].
The company's Web address is www.bombardsociety.com.