The Philosophy That Underlies
Flying high for over a quarter century; meet an “Original” company
Have you ever flown in a balloon? It’s an amazing experience “the roaring of the burner as you take off on a pre-dawn flight, then the silent soaring high above the ground, but low enough so that you can see everything “getting a real bird’s eye view of the landscape below”.
Commercial Balloon flying was brought to Gauteng’s skies over a quarter century ago in 1981, by one of the South African travel industry’s most colourful characters, Bill Harrop, a winner in the 2006 SA Tourism Welcome Awards. Bill, who was a hotel manager in Bermuda before coming to South Africa, was an enthusiastic yachtsman, and first took up ballooning as an adventure sport. As he says It’s like three-dimensional yachting, so far from the sea!” He was one of the first in South Africa to do so, and then, as a seasoned tourism professional, he realized he could possibly turn his hobby into a business in the industry he loves.
Harrop started his company in 1981, under the name of Balloon Safaris South Africa. He was a pioneer, where others have followed later, and in 1992 changed the company’s name to Bill Harrop’s “Original” Balloon Safaris as other companies had started up, and he needed a really “original” trade mark. This says it all. Over the past 28 years Bill Harrop’s “Original” Balloon Safaris has established itself as an icon of the South Africa’s tourism industry. In their field (and sky), it has been leading by example, with a combination of safe, legal flying and a hard- earned reputation for providing top world class customer service and value. Being the very first winner of the prestigious S.A Tourism 2006 Welcome Award for Tour Operators and being judged the very best Tour Operator in South Africa was the cherry on the top for Bill and his staff crowning this very special anniversary year. In celebration, 55 of the company’s employees and partners let their hair down in a very special party at their riverside country base in the Magaliesberg.
Later that year, two of the outstanding up and coming middle management achievers, Eric Ngcobo and Erika Wolmerans, winged their way to the USA to attend the famed Disney Customer Service course and then a holiday experiencing for themselves the best in tourism in the USA. This was the Welcome Awards prize. When they returned, Harrop hosted a limited number of workshops and events where they were able to share their new knowledge with their peers, not only within the company, but also through the local community and the industry. That was Bill’s way of making the most of the award for his company and his colleagues in the industry.
It illustrates very well the philosophy that underlies this very proud and successful tourism company. Says Harrop, One of our guiding principles is to do unto others as you wish they would do unto you. We always maintain the focus that we are in the business of converting dreams and aspirations into great and everlasting memories. Ballooning is not a cheap experience. The basic costs of balloon operations dictate a relatively high selling price, and when you add on high levels of customer service, and a wee bit of profit, it can come to more than some folk earn in a week.
“Our staff appreciate that if they were spending this kind of hard earned money, they too would expect very special attention to their needs as well as a few added extra surprises. We always honestly describe what we provide in our advertising without exaggeration, and usually go the extra mile. From your very first contact with us, our aim is to delight you with our enthusiastic attention and helpful efficiency every step of the way through to the follow-up and after the flight.”
During its 28 years in the industry, Bill Harrop’s “Original” Balloon Safaris has always been aware of its responsibilities, links and relationships within the various communities in the areas where it operates. Staff have always been involved with serving on the various local and national sport and commercial ballooning aviation committees; have taken part in local tourism initiatives such as the Magalies Meander, and have also served on the Johannesburg committees of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA), Travelbags and Skal International. Bill has also served as local and national president of Skal perhaps the most influential international travel organization in the world.
Bill Harrop’s “Original” Balloon Safaris is a family business. Wife Mary, daughter Sarah Bauling and son Sam are all involved at various levels. Bill Harrop says he gets enormous pleasure from the fact that they have built a business from nothing into something that can give employment to so many dedicated people. These are people of all ages and walks of life deserving of the guidance or advancement we are able to provide. We see them learning, training, achieving goals and advancing their lives and wellbeing.
It is one of Bill Harrop’s fundamental beliefs that if you’ve got something good and you don’t share it, you don’t deserve to have it. This sentiment is reflected in his Company being the first Platinum Benefactor of the Tourism Education Trust by the sponsoring of a tourism related awareness programme in five local schools.
Says Harrop: I believe that it is important to adopt the principle of putting back in what you got out (plus some). It is never too late to start, and payback is mutually reciprocated between the community that spawned you and the community that is fed by you, even though they may be miles and years apart.
Among the special ways in which Bill Harrop’s “Original” Balloon Safaris celebrated its quarter century were:
- Sponsoring of Travel Bags Lunch on Friday 28th July (one of the highlights of their annual programme) and offering lots of prizes, valued at over R100,000.00
- Celebrating and sharing the benefits of its win in the S.A. Tourism Welcome Awards 2006 as Best Tour Operator – a Company TEAM triumph).
- Launching, in addition to their current 12 Select Ballooning Lodge Packages, the brand new Legend Lodges Entabeni Game Viewing Package that incorporates a choice of six different four-and five- star lodges in this major private game reserve and tourism development in the World Heritage Waterberg Biosphere, Limpopo Province.
- Opening their new Pavilion, scheduled for completion by end of year, which is designed to give an even greater welcome to passengers as they arrive for their balloon safaris, and the first class kitchen will open up opportunities for catering to small conferences and banqueting for over 120 guests.
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