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It’s been a year of growth for Rainbow Ryders

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s been a year of expansion for Rainbow Ryders, New Mexico’s biggest hot air balloon ride company.

The business, which was founded 35 years ago, now has a 30-balloon fleet with last week’s acquisition of Albuquerque-based  Private Balloon Flights for an undisclosed price.

The purchase helps bolster Rainbow’s local fleet with craft that provide a more intimate flying experience, said Rainbow President and CEO Scott Appelman. The wicker baskets (also known as gondolas) can just accommodate two passengers plus the pilot. “They are perfect for wedding proposals, anniversaries and birthday celebrations,” said Appelman of the smaller craft “boutique” rides, which cost $325 per person, and will often include a post-flight champagne toast.

“We do these a couple of times a week,” said Appelman of the private hot air balloon rides.

Rainbow Ryders launches more than 1,950 flights a year from Albuquerque, Phoenix and Mesa, Ariz. The company gets all kinds of aerial adventure requests from its clientele: bucket list rides, family reunions, team building events, scattering the ashes of loved ones and other occasions, said Appelman.

In addition to the Albuquerque and Phoenix markets, Rainbow also offers hot air balloon rides in Colorado Springs and plans to open a Las Vegas office next year.

Earlier this year, the company announced the launch of Elite Xperience Planners in its Arizona market. “This expands our business model by helping create customized bucket list experiences” other than hot-air balloon rides, said Appelman.

Clearly, the company’s bread and butter is still the hot-air balloon revenue, which totaled $4 million last year. Appelman estimated that Rainbow Ryders has about 80 percent of the market share in the Albuquerque market.

Only 20 percent of the business is generated during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.  “We fly year round, about 310 days a year,” said Appelman. “The company employs 45 people, half them full-timers.

In addition to the rides, Appelman said the company rents out its fleet for “corporate balloon promotions” where the balloons — emblazoned with a company’s name or product image — either go aloft or are tethered to the ground.

“We have a great loyal following,” said Appelman of the company. “A lot of it is repeat business.”