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[Opinion] Festival Competitiveness

Posted October. 21, 2008 09:32,   


Avignon, a small sleepy city in southern France, gets into a festive mood every July as 500,000 tourists from around the world visit for the Avignon Theater Festival. Hotels and restaurants are packed over the event’s period. Oktoberfest, the famed beer festival in Germany, draws an average of six million visitors per year. Both are examples of successive festivals. In Korea, municipal and provincial governments host more than 1,100 festivals to prevent residents from moving to Seoul and revitalize their economies.

In the number of festivals, Korea badly trails the United States (25,000) and Japan (10,000). The ones Korea does hold, however, often get negative feedback because most of them seem the same. Every Korean festival has a singing competition, celebrity appearances, traditional Korean games, and sale of the same souvenirs. A vicious cycle continues as disappointed tourists do not come again, which leads to losses that provincial governments eventually have to compensate with their budgets.

Festivals in other countries have developed on their own over a long period, while those in Korea have been hurriedly organized by provincial bodies since the establishment of the local autonomous system. Provincial leaders mindful of the next local elections strive to expand the size of events or create festivals. In doing so, the events are hastily and recklessly organized. In Korean history, festivals were necessary to promote harmony among residents in the region. Thus provincial governments need to return to the basics. They must take advantage of their own merits and focus on nurturing the indigenous culture of their areas.

The Avignon Theater Festival and Oktoberfest succeed because they focus on one theme – theater for Avignon and beer for Oktoberfest. Japan’s Sapporo snow festival is known for snow and Brazil’s Rio Carnival for dance. Korea needs to nurture festivals with content that attracts genuine interest instead of focusing on getting bigger. The global tourism industry often says Korea lacks tourism resources so the country has few things to see. To fight this prejudice, Korean provincial governments can hopefully improve their festivals to proudly show to the world.

Editorial Writer Hong Chan-sik (chansik@donga.com)