Many districts in Korea hold various local festivals to attract tourists using Korea’s four distinct seasons. There will be lots of fares in this winter also. A local festival not only gives exciting memories to tourists but also has economic effects on that province. However, there are some missing points to be addressed. The Argus analyzed the good and the bad regarding local festivals in Korea.
Spring Festival: Hampyeong Butterfly Festival
The Hampyeong Butterfly Festival, hosted by Hampyeong County, marks its 20th anniversary this year. According to the county, more than 300,000 tourists visited the festival, for which the county recorded a profit of 1 billion won (US$883,470) in entrance fee alone in 2017.
The Hampyeong local government worked hard to create their eco-friendly local image and establish it through the festival. Because there were no industrial or tourism resources, a measure was urgently needed to promote agricultural products produced in the county. Therefore, a festival was planned with a butterfly theme that could appeal to the eco-friendly region. Unlike other local governments, Hampyeong County has a separate department in charge of butterflies. As a result, the so-called “butterfly effect” spread throughout the province. For instance, Hampyeong rice, which was renamed Hampyeong butterfly rice, was selected as Korea's premium rice in 2011.
Summer Festival: Boryeong Mud Festival
Boryeong Mud Festival is held in July every year at Daecheon Beach in Boryeong City. The origin of the Boryeong Mud Festival, which marks its 21st anniversary this year, was to take advantage of the natural resources of the city.
The city holds a mud festival every year to establish the mud as a regional symbol and representative commodity. With an estimated 1.83 million tourists this year, the government finally approved the “Boryeong Maritime Mud Expo” in 2022, in recognition of the huge economic impact of the mud festival. Therefore, the festival has become a good example of a well-reserved local festival that has grown into a national exposition.
Autumn Festival: Seoul Lantern Festival
Seoul Lantern Festival lights up the Cheonggye Plaza, which is a representative landmark of Seoul. Colorful lantern sculptures decorate the Cheonggyecheon area with a different theme each year. It has drawn keen attention not only from foreigners visiting Seoul but also from Koreans.
One of the special features of the festival is that it also covers symbols of other regions. It is a good idea that takes advantage of Seoul, the capital of Korea, because many festivals nationwide can be promoted together by letting tourists who flock to Seoul know about other districts. This year, the festival featured the mascots of Yangpyeong County. A man in his 20s who lives in Seoul said, “It is a festival that takes place in Seoul, but it becomes richer because it allows us to learn about other areas of Korea. Through this festival, I want to visit other regions as well.”
Winter Festival: Mount Taebaek Snow Festival
Mount Taebaek Snow Festival is held in Gangwon Province at the end of January every year. Mount Taebaek Dorip Park, one of the most famous tourist spots in Gangwon Province, creates scenery that attracts people's attention and offers many exciting programs to visitors.
There have been many ski resorts in Gangwon Province. However, there were not enough recreational facilities for children and the elderly who could not enjoy skiing. As a result, the festival met the needs of tourists of all ages.
Uniformization of programs and contents
Although billions of taxes are spent every year to host local festivals, many of the event programs are ignored by citizens because they are similar and have no striking characteristics. For example, food trucks are present at every festival. Moreover, their menus are irrelevant to the festival, and often only feature popular foods, such as hot dogs and fried chicken.
One of the most common programs is a singing contest that is held at almost all festivals. Although many places hold a singing contest, it is actually becoming one of the things that make many people frown. In particular, local residents criticize it because of the lack of originality of the contents and its noise pollution.
Another example is a beauty contest. Many regions have held contests to promote sales of representative products and used the winner as an ambassador. However, by holding beauty pageants, a local festival might inadvertently show more of a focus on beauty than local specialty products. In addition, as the social atmosphere to stop the commercialization of female pageants spreads, such programs could have a negative impact on the promotion of local festivals.
Thoughtless borrowing of themes
Indiscriminate use of trendy items without considering how it fits the region is also a serious problem of local festivals.
Around 2014, a movie about admiral Yi Sun-shin received great attention in Korea. Many local governments then held a local festival under the theme of admiral Yi. As a result, there were more than 10 festivals related to him nationwide. The more festivals overlap like this, the less interested locals or tourists become, because it takes away the opportunity to explore the unique characteristic of the region.
A grass festival that is held all over the country in the fall can also be an example of colorless festival themes. Recently, a pink muhly grass habitat has emerged as a tourist’s hot spot. That is because it became famous through various social media for being known as the “sensual photo spot.” As the grasses have become popular, local governments are even creating artificial grasslands to attract tourists.
Cruelty to animals
Animal festivals are being held all over the country, but many of these festivals include mistreatment of animals. According to a survey by Seoul National University, there are more than 80 animal festivals held nationwide. The most common programs are catcher, followed by watching bouts of animal fighting. The statistics clearly show the selfishness of humans.
For example, Hwacheon Mountain Trout Festival has become a typical Korean winter festival with a winter fishing theme. However, according to experts, mountain trout is not originally a species that lives in Hwacheon County. Just for the festival, fish are artificially released into the district. Furthermore, thousands of fish released under the ice are not fed for two days to add to the excitement for festival-goers.
Some fish festivals even take place during the spawning season. The Yangyang Salmon Festival, held every autumn, attracts salmon that come to clamber across the river into the festival. Then, people grab salmon and cook them. At least during the breeding season, a festival must not be held in order to preserve the ecosystem. There is definitely a problem with the type of festivals that are simply catching and eating creatures without ecological consideration.
Destroying the environment
The environmental damage caused by festivals is also a serious problem. In the Yeongnam area, Mount Cheonwang’s Lion Plain was famous as the largest habitat of silver grass and maple trees. But, the increase in tourists and the installation of decks and stairs has destroyed the plain. In the 1970s, the lion plain had about 21.9 million square meters of silver grass colony, but now there are only 3.56 million square meters (6 percent) left.
Yeoncheon Winter Trout festival in Gyeonggi Province is also criticized for damaging the environment. This is because the artificial environment for the festival damages the columnar joints at a national geo-park. People make artificial ice at the riverbeds to create a large-scale ice fishing site around the Imjin River. As a result, concerns are raised that when the ice melts, the columns might be destroyed and the clean environment along the Imjin River might be contaminated.
Remind about the purpose of local festivals
To lead the local festival in a better way, we must recall the purpose of festivals. The local festival is a means to create a cohesive community and promote that region to others.
However, many local festivals are now held without a sense of purpose in which some heads of organizations put taxes first in order to show off their achievements. This attitude will make festivals insincere that will not help to make or promote a positive image of the region at all.
Looking for eco-friendly programs
We can find ways to enjoy animal festivals without hurting animals and nature. For example, in a festival related to migratory birds, if tourists observe birds from afar with binoculars and learn about the ecology of migratory birds, it will not harm the birds. In fact, Gunsan International Migratory Bird Festival was highly praised by many ecologists for helping visitors understand nature through such programs and giving them the right attitude to love nature.
In order to create sustainable and eco-friendly programs, all stakeholders’ cooperation is needed. If we think about it from a long-term perspective instead of looking for immediate profits, we can see the need for an eco-friendly festival. Therefore, all parties participating in the festival should work together to plan a mature program.
A festival brings together diverse cultures and makes creativity from such ventures. It also serves as a place for communication where locals and tourists can hang out with each other. In order to prevent a good-intentioned festival from being discolored, the purpose and meaning of the festival should be made more visible in the process of festival planning. Especially, if young people become interested in it, there will be continued high-quality local festival culture in Korea in the future.
By Kim Tae-young
Staff Reporter of National Section