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World music festivals bring new tourism appeal for culture-minded travellers

During the Borneo World Music Expo in Kuching, a debate took place among festival organizers about the benefits of hosting a festival. A few examples were provided but generally tourist authorities in Asia have been rather slow to embrace the concept.

KUCHING – Sarawak capital Kuching is buzzing with musicians and artists from all around the world –but particularly from Asia- all converting into the double-event created by the hosting of the World Music Expo as well as the iconic Rainforest Music Festival
All across Asia-Pacific, the interest to organize world music festivals is growing. With a music scene which is increasingly influenced by sounds coming from the entire planet, there is also a growing interest to discover local musicians and ethnic music performers. This turns increasingly into a great way for travellers to not only participate to a special event but also discover a new destination if the festival takes place in a less known area and learn more about local cultures. In Asia, urban destinations such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo or Taipei with its mix of affluent inhabitants and tourists looking for a city experience have understood for a long time the idea of organizing festivals. More local festivals such as Bangkok International Dance Festival or even Luang Prabang Film Festival are getting increasingly more exposure while Jakarta Wayang (Puppet) Festival struggles to move beyond its local appeal. But most Southeast Asian festivals continue to generally lack a truly global awareness. 
Sarawak Tourism Board has been keen to embrace the concept of promoting together tourism and invites hundreds of artists and media to cover the event with the festival being now in its 17th year and attracting during the week end some 30,000 people. 
However, Sarawak Tourism Board remains one of the few tourism authorities to level on the festival in its tourism development. ”I have to say that the New Zealand Tourism Board is keener to promote destinations such as Rotorua or Queenstown rather than looking at events. We also tried to contact Air New Zealand to see if we could get discounted tickets but we were told that this did not match their customers target”, regrets Emere Wano, Director of Tihi Ltd, an event and festival managing company which runs Sounds Auteraroa in Wellington, an expo and event highlighting maori music as well as WOMAD, New Zealand World Music Festival organized in February in March in New Plymouth.
We receive some kind of limited support such as bits of advertising from the State of West Bengal but our main support comes from corporate. I think this more due to their lack of organization”, tells Kaushik Dutta, CEO and Artistic Director for Song of Soul, Kolkata International Music Festival hosted every year in mid-December. 
Such festivals are in fact an exciting way for travellers to dip into the soul of a country. In the case of Kolkata Song of Soul (SOS), the festival was created to document and record the inside story of folk and tribal music of India, some remaining undiscovered and even threaten to disappear. ”Our festival helps also to protect musicians with moral, financial or even medical support while making an effort to save India rich variety of musical expressions from becoming extinct”, adds Kaushik Dutta. In New Zealand, Emere Wano events is a perfect opportunity to discover Maori culture through artists performances. 
Bridging now the gap between festival organizers and public authorities. Europe can serve as a benchmark for Asia: with its multiple festivals or events such as the annual organization of the “European Capital City of Culture” are the right way to blend together culture and tourism while providing support for local communities. 


Photo caption: Bidayu musicians from Sarawak at Borneo World Music Expo


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Luc Citrinot a French national is a freelance journalist and consultant in tourism and air transport with over 20 years experience. Based in Paris and Bangkok, he works for various travel and air transport trade publications in Europe and Asia.