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Bristol International Balloon Fiesta and branch Annual General Meeting

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Martin Gosden, the branch chairman, conducted a brisk AGM, introduced the committee, got agreement of the 2013 AGM minutes, reviewed the past year and looked forward to the next. Peter Wakeling, the branch treasurer, discussed the financial statement.

Following election of the committee, the chairman introduced our speaker for the night, Ben Hardy, of the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.

Ben introduced himself and explained that he has been involved with the fiesta since 2000, and the full time event director since 2010.

The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta was started in 1979 by Don Cameron after a chat in the pub. It is run as a not for profit company with a board of 8 trustees, Don being the Chairman.Its constitution requires it to be a credit to Bristol, promote employment in the area and be free from admission charges.It is known worldwide and attracts some 500,000 visitors each year.

Ben outlined the organisational structure and his teams role in project managing the event each year.The fiesta costs 596K per year, with an income of 600K - 25% of which comes from car parking - which is weather dependent, and so represents a considerable financial risk.As a comparison, Glastonbury costs about 25M, and so the fiesta costs are quite modest.The fiesta is good for the local economy, for every 1 in costs, it is estimated that 15 is spent in the local economy by visitors from outside the local area. The fiesta has huge media impact, with 1.891 billion circulation figures worth nearly 2M in marketing value.

Before the recession, the event was supported by key sponsors who underpinned the financial risk, but this is no longer the case. Some sponsorship is gained via the 100 Club of local Bristol firms, but the financial risk is clear and the event has needed ever tighter planning and management.

Ben explained some of the challenges he has had to deal with, including improving crowd safety, establishing a value for money focussed procurement strategy, getting the ballooning community re-engaged, and attracting visitors for the whole day to help increase foot-fall for the traders.

Ben described his role as multidisciplinary; partly conducting an orchestra of the experts he needs to manage and support the fiesta. This includes emergency planning, traffic management to reduce car park exit times, marketing and rebranding the fiesta, managing the media, site management; power and communications, retail management, including advance sales of parking tickets to reduce the volatility of income, waste management; the disposal of 60 tonnes of rubbish, as well as toilets. Ben described how he had set up departments of expert teams to focus on these work streams.

A lot of time is spent on managing the stakeholders, the local councils and residents.The fiesta is seen as Bristols event, but Ashton Court is actually in North Somerset, and so the stakeholders have not always been easy to align.There is now an operations planning group with key stakeholders to coordinate and direct the planning.

Over the last 4 years, the work has resulted in better cost control, better traffic management and reduced car park exit times, better toilets, including at the key pedestrian egress points to reduce nuisance to local residents.

For the future, a strategic risk register has been developed, which includes plans for alternative venues, there are also plans for promote social media to help realise commercial value which it is hoped with attract large corporate sponsorship again. This, and the creation of a financial reserve, will help manage the financial risk. Protecting the special environment of Ashton Court is also becoming increasingly important.

In conclusion, Ben summed up his personal perspective of managing the fiesta project; 3-400 e-mails a day sap energy so it is essential to use the right communications at the right time. Twitter can be a really useful tool for mass communication during the fiesta. It is essential to build and maintain rapport with the police and local authorities you can then discuss solutions to problems easily.Ben has found the Podio collaborative tool ideal for project managing the fiesta, as well as having a porta-cabin for the team on site for a month before and after the fiesta.

Martin Gosden
Branch Chairman

The minutes of the branch AGM are attached below.


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