Days before the end of 2018, luxury hotel Okada Manila faced a PR problem for its New Year’s Eve event. The hotel’s nightclub, Cove Manila, planned a huge party with famous DJ Pete Tong playing the upbeat tunes. Part of the festivities is a massive 130,000-balloon drop, which the nightclub claimed is an official attempt to be listed in Guinness World Records.

Immediately following the announcement, the hotel received backlash for the event due to the environmental harm of the latex balloons. Sardonic memes and the hashtag #DropBalloonDrop circulated various social media platforms. On top of that, netizens flooded Cove Manila’s social media accounts with negative comments and reviews.

Environment activists protested and warned of the great harm the activity would do to the environment. An online campaign was launched by Climate Reality Project Philippines, joined by Greenpeace Southeast Asia – Philippines, Ecowaste Coalition, and Save Philippine Seas and in few days generated 63,000 signatories.

Cove Manila released an official statement on 29 December 2018 claiming that it will push through the balloon drop event and assured the public that the event will be handled responsibly.

However, these words failed to appease the public and the campaign to cancel the event continued. Due to the clamour of the public, the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR) stepped in and the department sent a letter to Okada Manila. DENR cited some important reasons why the balloon drop event should be cancelled.

DENR spokesperson Benny Antiporda called the event a “solid waste disaster waiting to happen.” He added that the department would not hesitate to arrest the organizers and file charges against them.

That same day, Cove Manila released another statement confirming that it cancelled the balloon drop.

Small win but a great start

After Cove Manila cancelled its balloon drop, more establishments followed suit. The Peninsula Manila and Davao Bamboo Sanctuary and Ecological Park both shelved their respective balloon releasing event.

It is heartwarming to witness and be part of the cause. Sustainable tourism will continue to rise as 86% of travellers, especially Millennials and Gen Z, say that they would be willing to spend some time on activities that offset the environmental impact of their stay.

Even though the collective effort of Filipinos has stopped the balloon drop events, hotels have cancelled the events the last minute and the balloons were already purchased, inflated, and set up. The disposal of these balloons is another issue.

“Although we’re happy that the event did not push through, what will they do with the purchased balloons?” Angelina Pago of Greenpeace asked.

A quick search on Facebook and one will find numerous balloon drop events, especially in the United States, on New Year’s Eve. Even Khloe Kardashian and Tristan Thompson’s NYE celebrations included a balloon drop.

Balloon festivals have been known to create serious problems. In 1986 in Cleveland, Ohio, a fundraising balloon stunt caused numerous problems when 1.5 million helium-filled latex balloons drifted back to the city because of an incoming storm. It affected aviation halting flights and prevented the immediate rescue causing the death of two fishermen. In the end, the Guinness World Records did not recognise the event. Still, it’s for the books.

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