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Written By: Despina Karatzias
Upon boarding my Istanbul bound flight in Melbourne the realisation of just how big and audacious my global quest for excellence was. I was embarking on a journey of professional development and personal growth and I was nervous regarding being able to deliver on my promise.
Words cannot do justice to the immense gratitude that continues to flow through me in being awarded the 2011 Lynette Bergin Fellowship. It is a joy to work in such a wonderful an industry and with Global Ballooning who have supported my growth and empower their people to flourish.
My research for this fellowship was to find regions that epitomise food and wine tourism, and are also renowned for hot air ballooning. These two regions have very strong ‘must see' brands and are market leaders on a global scale. One has had a long standing reputation and the other has seen fast and significant growth and investment.
My research began well before I landed in Europe. One of my biggest challenges was booking appointments in advance. English was limited for some of the operators I connected with and it was sometimes confusing for them to even comprehend what I actually wanted to do. Once there I found through persistence, patience and a significant of hand gestures I was able to collect highly valuable information.
As formal appointments were not easily achieved - I found that my mission was more research on the run. It involved making friends very quickly in the week I had in each destination and tapping them for as much information as I could - I would consult in hotel lobbies, in restaurants, cold calling various operators and I even found myself at times door knocking various travel organisations and balloon operators.
I was gaining valuable insight as to what a career in investigative journalism would be like. My mission being to uncover a hidden secret of massive tourism numbers - the tourism equivalent of Lasseter's Reef. It is not until you climb down into an underground city carved out of rock or look up at the leaning tower of Pisa or visit the Duomo in Florence, or villages like San Gimignano, Luca and Sienna that you quickly get a sense of exactly why these two countries attract the fifth and sixth largest number of international visitors in the world.
One procedure I used in making some of my systematic observations and pursuit of information was to just be the tourist. Experiencing the product and delivery first hand, expanded my awareness and assisted me to make key observations into customer service and product offering in these two locations.
Cappadocia is located in Anatolia in central Turkey. It is blessed with a sensational natural landscape that looks like it is a Hollywood film set. It is rich in incredible history and has become one of the most sort after tourism destinations in the world. For those who have not been - it is a city made up of special geological structures that resemble large mushrooms. They call them fairy chimneys and they have been hollowed out by human hand and turned into dwellings. The ballooning experience flying through this magical valley was absolutely breathtaking - it was so easy to understand how these two amazing sights can lead to such a phenomenal growth in tourism. In only twenty years ballooning in Cappadocia has become the commercial ballooning capital of the world with twenty operators flying approximately one hundred balloons every morning.
Tuscany of course requires no preamble. It is one of twenty regions in Italy and has become just as famous as the country itself. Interestingly I also flew with the most experienced and longest operating ballooning company in the Chianti region who also started operating 20 years ago. A vast contrast to what has happened in Cappadocia in two decades; Stefano remains a one-man balloon operator with only a handful of competitors in the region. It was a manic, un-organised, chaotic morning with only one balloon and two passengers on board. The ballooning experience was just as breathtaking as we floated above lush green country side, beautiful villages, castles, vineyards and olive groves. I ignored the fact that Stefano enjoyed about six cigarettes during the hour duration of our flight whilst at the same time explaining safety is his first priority as he flicked his cigarette butt to the ground below us. Following the flight we headed back to Stefano's house of which we stopped to pick up from the local bakery in his 4WD with his favourite Jazz music blaring as he sung and pounded his steering wheel to the trumpet sounds whilst of course enjoying more cigarettes with his two passengers in the back. I put this down to the European lifestyle of "the rules are - there aren't any rules". One would assume I may have walked away with a somewhat negative outlook yet this was not the case, the craziness of it all only added to an experience that was raw, authentic and just as unforgettable in its own right.
It has been an extraordinary experience to travel to such phenomenal tourist locations with my minds eye on my working life. Focusing my attention to detail and delivery has really opened my eyes to how good a job we actually do in Australia. We don't have significant landmarks, we are not rich in history that goes back millions of years yet we are a still a world-class destination. It certainly is no accident that we continue to be voted the world's most liveable city. I certainly have a much deeper appreciation for the industry I work in and also my role in our company. Our combined efforts, our government policies and strategic planning for a sustainable city and our attitude encapsulate excellence.
It certainly was an honour to be named this year's Lynette Bergin recipient and to continue to carry out Lynette's legacy. Although I did not know Lynette, I believe she was someone very special and much like my impression on Italy, she did not conform but that was the attraction. Thank you Victoria Tourism Industry Council and when it comes to the difference that makes the difference - flair, fun and a being a little crazy mean a lot - I do feel we need a lot more of that!