The rise of hot air balloons as competition begins today for the 42nd Great Texas Balloon Race is expected to fill rooms at area hotels and draw more business to Longview restaurants.
However, representatives from area hotels and restaurants said they are not sure whether the three-day event will bring them more business than from previous years, even though GTBR officials posted on the race’s Facebook page that online ticket sales indicated Saturday’s crowd “will be much larger than we normally experience.”
Balloon officials urged event attendees to “please plan accordingly and allow yourself plenty of time to travel to the festival, park and enter the gates” at the East Texas Regional Airport.
C.J. Clayton, general manager of the 104-room Courtyard by Marriott on Hawkins Parkway, said she expects most hotels in Longview to draw occupancy rates through the weekend of 60% to 70%. She said weekend dog shows at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center and the adjoining Longview Exhibit Building could bring 100 percent occupancy rates to hotels that allow pets.
“Half of our business this weekend is balloon races,” Clayton said.
She said some pilots arrived Wednesday, and others checked in Thursday. They came from throughout the country, including two from California.
Balloonists tend to stay in Longview, while entertainers and their crews book rooms in Kilgore, according to Zann Matthews, front desk clerk at the 66-room Holiday Inn Express on U.S. 259 North.
Matthews said stage and production crews, along with some other GTBR workers, have booked about 25 rooms. She said two guests arrived Wednesday, 10 checked in Thursday and 10 more are due today.
The hotel is fully booked for tonight and Saturday night, Matthews said.
“I think it is going to be a really good year (at GTBR), because we have more entertainers,” Matthews said. “It just seems like every year, it is going to be better.”
Like the Holiday Inn Express, the 62-room Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott on Fourth Street in Longview is expected to be booked fully tonight, General Manager Teressa Parker said.
Parker said she assumed many guests arrived to attend GTBR because they asked for directions.
Restaurant managers said they hope pilots and spectators will help to fill tables, and they will be fully staffed to accommodate patrons.
David Weese, a manager at The Butcher Shop off McCann Road, said pilots typically show up for breakfast at the restaurant, which opens at 7 a.m.
“We will be busier,” Weese said. “There is no doubt. We will get some traffic from people seeing the balloons.”
Courtney Strong, a manager at Bubba’s 33 on Loop 281, said she does not know what to expect but anticipates a full crowd. She said the restaurant for the first time will offer free appetizers to pilots and GTBR volunteers who show their badges.
Miles Malone, a manager at Posados Cafe off Judson Road, seemed upbeat.
“We plan on having a busier week than the previous week,” Malone said. “We are staffed for a bigger crowd and a large back room for parties.”
Clayton and others expressed optimism about GTBR.
“It’s really strong, and the weather is beautiful, and it should be a fantastic event,” Clayton said. “We should all support it.”