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Editorial | Beyond festival tourism

The Philippines might as well bid for the Guinness World Record as the country with the most number of festivals. From Luzon to Mindanao, many towns and provinces have come up with festivals of their own. Some borne from history and the distinctive culture of a place, others simply from a desire to provide entertainment.

Festival organizers, usually the local government units in tandem with the Tourism department, hope to boost tourism through these events. It doesn’t matter that most of them are nothing more than invented traditions. And at the end of the day, nobody bothers to see if the people’s money and effort spent on the fanfare has managed to produce the intended outcome of attracting visitors beyond the event.

Of course, there are festivals that have succeeded in terms of drawing huge audiences, which augurs well for the local economy. This means more revenues for hotels, transport firms, food establishments and other actors in the service sector. On the other hand, there are festivals that have remained obscure, known only to the locals and nearby areas, either because of poor promotion or because the places aren’t worth one’s time, money and effort.

Regardless of how Philippine festivals have registered in the consciousness of visitors, the local governments and the Tourism department need to assess if these events have really developed cultural consciousness and awareness of local history. They need to see if visitors bring back home not just images of the pageantry but also a deeper appreciation of the place and its people.

This is where the country’s tourism industry lags behind compared to Thailand’s, for example. In Thailand tourists get a chance to immerse in a village, interact with locals, share meals with them and learn about their history and culture. Visitors can enjoy their stay in a quiet way, one that gives another brand of joy and excitement minus the noise that characterize festivals.

Mindanao in particular is an island rich in cultures and history. It’s time to maximize this asset.

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