Taipei, Feb. 11 (CNA) The former head of Taitung County's Tourism Department who initiated the Taiwan International Balloon Fiesta in 2011, won a "model civil servant" award in late 2015.
In addition to Chen Shu-hui (陳淑慧), the honor was awarded to five other civil servants and four teams of government employees by the Ministry of Civil Service last December.
After Chen assumed the position as head of Taitung's Tourism Department in 2010, she began looking for an event to promote her southeastern county, which is famous for its beaches along the Pacific, mountainous scenery and indigenous tribal cultures.
Chen was reminded of the charm of hot air ballooning she experienced during a trip to Australia and New Zealand and thought the county's climate and geography is suitable for the sport.
Back then, Taiwan had neither hot air balloons nor pilots. Chen held more than 100 meetings with the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), which administers flying objects from airplanes to hot air balloons, to persuade its officials to allow a balloon festival to take place.
The CAA told Chen the balloons and pilots must be qualified according to European regulations and certification, which is stricter than in the United States and other places.
Chen managed to find 15 balloons and more than 30 pilots from 16 countries, including Canada and New Zealand, allowing the first fiesta to be held in the summer of 2011.
Taitung Magistrate Justin Huang (黃健庭) said that through the organizing process, people around the world have become aware of the event and have made it a success, according to report in the Commonwealth Magazine.
Taitung's fiesta, which lasts for two months, is the longest in the world, said Huang.
Now Taiwan has 12 hot air balloons and eight pilots of its own. A local flight operator has provided daily flights in Taitung's Luye Township since 2014, weather permitting. There is also a flight school for training balloon pilots there.
Chen said hot air ballooning is a driving force for the tourism industry in Taitung, which has only about 222,000 residents.
Overnight visitors to the county had risen to 2.88 million as of 2014, up about 1.3 million from 1.59 million in 2010, according to a report in late 2015.
(By Sophia Yeh and Kuo Chung-han)