Over the past couple of weeks, I have been writing a series of articles about tourism in the Philippines, and how to increase the number of people who are visiting the country. Today, I’d like to look at festivals in the Philippines. The Philippines, more than any other country that I know of, has a lot of Festivals.
Not only does every City have at least a couple of festivals per year, but every small town, even part of towns (Barangays or Barrios) have their own festivals. Most of the festivals in the Philippines have some sort of cultural aspect to them. The festivals are not just for fun (although there is plenty of that to be had at a festival), but they are in commemoration to some historical event or cultural aspect from the area where the festival is celebrated.
For example, here in the Davao City there are two major festivals each year, Araw ng Dabaw is held in March and The Kadayawan Festival is held in August. Araw ng Dabaw literally means “the Day of Davao” which is a celebration of the Charter Day of the City. Kadayawan loosely means “harvest” and August is a time when almost every fruit is “in season” so Kadayawan is a Harvest Festival of the bounty of fruits in the area. Both festivals include a lot of tradition of different ethnic groups in and around Davao, and thus the festivals are really culturally significant. Of course, in addition to the “big two” local festivals, there are dozens of smaller festivals and celebrations in the barrios and barangays of Davao City.
Because the festivals of the Philippines are so many, and also steeped with cultural significance, I really believe that these festivals could draw in a lot of tourists. Not only could foreign tourists enjoy learning about the culture of the Philippines, they could also really enjoy the merriment that surrounds such festivals. For anybody who does not think that such festivals can draw tourism, just take a look at Mardi Gras in New Orleans or in Rio, both places have a huge influx of tourism for the festivals. I used to live in the New Orleans area, for about 10 years, and I know what happens at Mardi Gras. There are so many tourists that hotel rooms are full, even if they are 3 or 4 hours from New Orleans! Of course, because of the distance involved, it would be more difficult to draw visitors to the Philippines, but even if it only draws 10% or 20% of the visitors that New Orleans gets, you are talking about a major impact.
So, what is holding the tourism back at this point? Well, festival planning is handled much differently in the Philippines than it is in New Orleans or other areas in the Western World. In New Orleans, when Mardi Gras ended and tourists were ready to head home, they were already handing out fliers for “next year’s Mardi Gras”. Hotels would be taking bookings for rooms a year in advance. While checking out from your room you could reserve a room for next year. The even for the following year had already been planned out. The dates of next year’s event were already known. Here in the Philippines, it’s a bit different. Much of the festival planning is started only a month or so before the festival is to occur! Sometimes I get e-mails from people who want to attend Kadayawan in August, they e-mail me in January or February saying that they need to plan their vacation travel in August, and can I please give them the dates for this year’s Kadayawan. Well, I have to tell them, regrettably, that there are not any dates yet, because the Festival has not been planned or scheduled yet.
This is very unfortunate, because in order to arrange International travel, you need advance planning. People need to schedule their vacation from work months in advance. If they don’t know when the festival is, there is no way they can plan to attend, because there is not enough lead time to make arrangements for vacation time and travel reservations.
When I lived in General Santos City in 2000 through 2002 I did some work with some of the Festival Organizing Committees there. I always urged them to start planning festivals at least 8 or 9 months in advance, preferably a year or more in advance, but I never could really get anybody to believe me that this was an important thing to do. I believe, though, that this is one of the really key factors to making Festivals in the Philippines an International draw. Of course, we all know that time is a lot different in the Philippines than in the West… it is less important here, which is why “Philippine Time” even exists. But, if the country wants to draw the tourists from abroad, it is an important shift that must take place.
I do believe that the country has a lot to offer with it’s thousands of festivals. I suspect that there is no day that goes by during the year when there is not a festival going on in some part of the country. The key is, though, to get the word out to the world, and get it out early enough that people can come and enjoy themselves at a Philippine Festival!