Authentic destination experiences are among the motivations likely to drive the initial stages of tourism recovery, as travellers prioritise purposeful travel. Here are some Asian festivals that feed one’s heart, soul and mind
BaliSpirit Festival, Indonesia
Yoga, music and dance is celebrated annually at the BaliSpirit Festival since its launch in 2008.
Positioned as a premier international destination event that embodies the Balinese Hindu concept ofTri Hita Karana – living in harmony with our spiritual, social and natural environments, the event draws more than 5,000 in attendance every year.
While the festival had to be cancelled this year due to Covid-19 precautions, it will return in 2021.
Commenting on the success of the BaliSpirit Festival, media manager Noviana Kusumawardhani said: “What BaliSpirit Festival offers transcends national boundaries. People from all over the globe want to connect in a community of like-minded souls, to practice yoga with world-class teachers, to dance and have fun, and to experience global music concerts under the stars. The essence of the festival appeals to an international audience.
“Secondly, the presenters and artists of the festival are also very international. Naturally, their students and fans from across the globe get to hear about BaliSpirit Festival.
“Thirdly, our location is ideal for international travellers. Bali, the Island of the Gods, is a dream destination for tourists from all over the world and is well connected with international flights and offers a variety of accommodation options for both budget and luxury travellers.”
The organisers market the annual gathering through online channels and word of mouth.
Noviana revealed that BaliSpirit Festival enjoys keen attention from traditional and new media, chalking up coverage by international magazines, TV stations, bloggers and e-news outlets every year.
To encourage overseas attendance, the organisers partner with travel companies, such as those in Japan and China, to promote and sell BaliSpirit Festival.
However, with Bali hotels being so easily available, Noviana said that the majority of attendees would arrange their trip themselves.
“Besides, booking on your own gives you maximum flexibility and options,” she said. – Mimi Hudoyo
Often considered a gateway to Asia, Singapore has developed a reputation for themed festivals that bring the best of its regional neighbours to locals and visitors alike. Shilin Singapore, a Taiwanese night market-themed event which debuted last year over two weekends and drew more than half a million attendees, returned this year in a unique virtual edition.
The event featured more than 100 livestream parties from June 12-14 and 19-21, where attendees had Taiwanese cuisine delivered right to their doorsteps. They were able to order retail products from brands, watch celebrities host live shows and performances, and enjoy giveaways.
To mimic the feeling of a physical carnival, the event even incorporated digital arcade games.
Kent Teo, founder and CEO of Shilin Singapore organiser, Invade, said: “Shilin Singapore Virtual 2020 used various technologies to create a truly multi-sensorial experience. We wanted to tackle the pandemic head-on by providing businesses with an alternative platform to generate revenue. By digitising our (event), we were also helping our vendors get upskilled with live shopping and social shopping capabilities.”
He explained that since the Singapore government implemented a nation-wide shutdown of non-essential services on April 7, as many as 80 per cent of restaurants might not be able to tide through the next six months. He hoped that Shilin Singapore Virtual 2020 could alleviate the pressures for these operators.
“It’s easy for organisers to simply cancel their events during such unprecedented times. However, we wanted to challenge ourselves and perhaps find a solution that could also work in the long run, while still being able to help businesses,” he added.
He said the digital version of Shilin Singapore may even change the way Invade – which is also behind the Artbox Singapore festival – organises offline festivals in the future. – Pamela Chow
George Town Festival, Malaysia
George Town Festival (GTF) is an annual, three-week celebration of culture, heritage, art, and community. The festival came to life when George Town in Penang was designated UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2008.
This year’s festival, from July 4 to 19, took on a new twist; it was held online due to the Covid-19 pandemic which has also made social distancing a new norm.
Penang Tourism, Arts, Culture and Heritage committee chairman, Yeoh Soon Hin, said nine programmes were curated for this year’s digital festival, bearing the theme, Everyone Everywhere.
Talks and workshops as well as a post-GTF bonus screening on July 26, related to visual art theatre, music, dance and film, were all part of the line-up.
Nigel Wong, director, Urban Rhythms Tours, Adventures and Travel, shared: “Going digital will help keep the brand alive as this festival is well-known internationally. (This year) it allowed a wider audience to access content, without actually having to physically travel to Penang. As borders remain closed, travelling to Penang for the festival is just not possible for foreigners.”
Maintaining the festival in a virtual format this year was deemed “a smart move” by Arokia Das, director, WL Travel, as it set a continued presence.
“Once the pandemic is over, borders reopened, and free movement of people resumes, I am sure the festival will return to its original form. That is a good thing because…the festival enhances the value of Penang as a business events destination. Planners can incorporate (festival activities) into their programme which will leave delegates with lasting memories of Penang.” – S Puvaneswary
Bangkok Design Week, Thailand
Bangkok Design Week’s extensive coverage of the city provides a fresh way of experiencing and understanding the Thai capital as a destination. This year, over 2,000 designers and creative businesses decked out four areas of the city with art installations.
According to Pichit Virankabutra, director of the creative space development department at the Creative Economy Agency (Public Organization) or CEA, the event is now South-east Asia’s largest design week. The size and breadth of the issues it tackles are of an international standard, putting it on par with the design weeks of Italy and Finland’s Helsinki.
And the event is meant for everyone. “We try to draw…people (who are) searching for experiences, issues and new perspectives to think about,” said Pichit.
“We want to drive the creative economy sustainably, and be able to help develop the city. It has to be truly inclusive and forward-thinking, something that people can bring their grandparents and their kids to.”
Drawing festival-goers into local neighbourhoods, the event helps catalyse discovery of local shops, businesses and culture. “With 30,000 people a day walking into local communities and supporting local businesses and cafes, it truly helps to drive the local…economy.”
This year’s Bangkok Design Week, hosted from February 1-9, 2020, was attended by 300,000 to 400,000 visitors every day, with 13.2 per cent being tourists. – Anne Somanas
Pahiyas Festival, Philippines
Held every 15th of May, the colourful harvest fiesta known as Pahiyas Festival helps to lure curious tourists into the town of Lucban, Quezon.
During the festival, town residents compete to have the most creatively decorated houses, uniquely bedecked with kiping – glutinous rice pounded into leaf shapes and dyed with food colouring, local decorative materials, fruits, vegetables and other farm produce. Cultural shows, parades, pageantry, and street sales were added over the years.
Arjun Shroff, managing director, Shroff International Travel Care, said Pahiyas is “something new, very natural and culture-related”.
As Lucban is a few hours’ drive from Manila, an experience of Pahiyas can be combined with Tagaytay or Pagsanjan Falls in Laguna as well as Batangas. – Rosa Ocampo