For almost 30 years, Victorians have been waking up to expansive skies, dotted with brightly coloured hot air balloons. Honan has been working with commercial balloonists, including prominent operator ‘Global Ballooning Australia’ specifically, for 20 years. In that time, Global Ballooning has brought balloons to the North Pole and Dubai, developed Australia’s first commercial disabled passenger balloon, and received three Victorian Tourism Awards. We checked in with Company Founder and commercial balloon pilot, Kiff Saunders to learn about the iconic business and their resilient response to the events of 2020.
THE CRUX OF YOUR BUSINESS?
Global Ballooning is a business born out of passion for the extraordinary. Initially my ballooning was pure escapism – a personal pursuit of adventure and freedom. Global Ballooning was a natural progression to keep that dream alive. It is now our mission to the give others the chance to experience the incredible world of ‘Lighter Than Air’.
YOUR PARTNERSHIP WITH HONAN COMMENCED BACK IN 2001! TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT GLOBAL BALLOONING LOOKED LIKE THEN VS WHERE YOU ARE NOW.
The new millennium saw Global Ballooning begin to expand along with our business reputation. Our company could support dedicated staff to perform specific roles, allowing me to focus on the aspects of the business that could facilitate growth. My meeting with Honan’s Alan Taylor in 2001 was part of our launchpad to our future. I wanted to provide ballooning services that encompassed the vision behind our name ‘GLOBAL’ – we needed an insurance partner who would work with us to achieve the extraordinary. The Honan partnership has allowed us to say YES to many incredible opportunities, including taking a balloon to the North Pole! In the past 20 years we have certainly managed to evolve into a world class aviation business with an international reputation for professionalism.
AT HONAN, WE’RE ALWAYS INSPIRED BY BUSINESSES WHO ARE BRAVE ENOUGH TO DO THINGS A LITTLE DIFFERENTLY. TELL US SOMETHING UNEXPECTED OR TRULY DIFFERENT ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS.
I have always been a person who sees the sum of the whole as greater than the individual. This has always been a cornerstone of our business ethos. Our business is a part of the wider community and it is our responsibility to add value through our business practices. My proudest achievement is the designing and building of a balloon that allows access to those living with a disability. Our ethical business practices also include sustainable business practices and giving back to our local community through assistance with education and community courses.
INNOVATIVE CULTURES AND A COMMITMENT TO ONGOING EVOLUTION ARE COMMON HALLMARKS OF SOME OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL ORGANISATIONS TODAY. WHAT DOES INNOVATION LOOK LIKE / MEAN TO YOUR BUSINESS?
Innovation is everything when your aim is to be the market leader. We never want to be caught looking over our shoulder when we live in an age where you can envisage and implement in such short time frames. I really like the phrase – ‘the main recipe for growth is to fail often, fail fast and fail at low cost’ – basically don’t let fear be a barrier to innovation; within failure there are great understandings and of course, success.
2020 SAW YOUR FLIGHTS GROUNDED IN ACCORDANCE WITH COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS. HOW DID THE BUSINESS STAY RESILIENT DURING THIS TIME?
2020 is a business year I would rather forget. It has been confronting to be faced with the reality that (as an entrepreneur who has spent 28 years rolling with the punches to shape my business) that there are situations like this that strip you of being the ‘master of your own destiny’. This is particularly difficult for a free-spirited individual and it has taken some time to adjust. Resilience for us has been to keep the team connected and engaged whilst being completely apart. Over the 7 months we were grounded, we have achieved significant internal efficiencies, attracted a new client and built a community balloon. We started the lockdown knowing we needed to see the opportunities within the disaster. I am happy to report that we never lost sight of that, even though there were a few tears.
AT HONAN, MAINTAINING QUALITY CONNECTIONS WITH OUR PEOPLE, PARTNERS AND THE COMMUNITY SITS AT THE HEART OF WHAT WE DO. WHAT RELATIONSHIPS & CONNECTIONS HAVE BEEN CRITICAL TO YOUR BUSINESS SUCCESS IN RECENT YEARS?
Relationships in business, as in life, are an essential aspect of success. For us, our connection with the wider tourism industry, stakeholders and business partners is ever-present. We highly value working with people whose values and energy align with ours. I will always value loyalty, commitment and service over cost. It always gives me great pleasure to find I have been dealing with the same people for decades.
YOU HAVE AN IMPRESSIVE TRACK RECORD, BUT NATURALLY, HOT AIR BALLOONING MUST HAVE RISKS. WHAT ARE THE TOP 3 WAYS HONAN HAS SUPPORTED YOUR BUSINESS OVER THE TIME WE’VE BEEN WORKING TOGETHER?
Risk mitigation and management is the single biggest operational focus of our business. As a Charter Airline we are required to comply with the Civil Aviation Act. This is where my relationship with Honan’s Alan Taylor has been crucial. In 2001, I decided we needed a Melbourne-based Insurance Broker who could work with us on an aviation policy that would service our needs and comply with the Civil Aviation Carriers Liability Act. At the time, Honan did not offer this service but they worked with us to establish connections in London who could underwrite our risk (even though the book of business was extremely small). We travelled to London to present to the underwriter a 10-point policy wish list that removed the grey areas in our existing policy.
Specifically, Honan’s solution:
- connected Ground Risk and Aviation risk (vs two different policies)
- allowed us to have an insurer appointed Risk Controller to deal with Brand Protection in event of an incident
- offered a policy reward for a higher operational Risk Management profile.
This was my and Honan’s first introduction to Graham Roberts and the Lloyd’s underwriting syndicate. It was by far one of the most beneficial trips I have made in my business life. This relationship has lasted nearly 20 years and I still deal with the same three people.
What are the benefits? Well, when we want to take a hot air balloon on a nuclear icebreaker to the North Pole so we can take guests up and down on a tether or put a balloon in the middle of San Paolo with $20M cover – we know who will help. Flying over the desert, mountains, cities – filming, adventure, training – this is what we do, and the secret of our success is to be able to say yes and move fast. Global Ballooning has never been knocked back on even our most unusual requests. This is what happens when all parties know there are professionals in the room and trust is absolute.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT FOR THE BUSINESS OVER THE NEXT 6-12 MONTHS?
I’m most excited about launching our ‘Love Letter to Melbourne’ balloon. This is the final step in a community funded project, a symbol of hope and resilience for our amazing city. The creativity and energy invested in this project has kept our team
inspired and engaged at a time when there has been so much pain and hardship in our community and the tourism industry. It’s our hope that our Love Letter to Melbourne will brighten the sky and people’s lives!
Editor’s Note: Honan is proud to be supporting the Love Letter to Melbourne initiative. The initiative launched on 30 March 2021.
Discover more in our Partner Q&A Series: Catapult Sports.