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Provinces hit as festivals canceled for third straight year

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Cherry blossom trees in full bloom in Jinhae, Changwon, about 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul, in this March 29, 2020 photo. The city decided to call off the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival, the biggest of its kind in the country, for the second consecutive year amid the pandemic. Yonhap
Cherry blossom trees in full bloom in Jinhae, Changwon, about 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul, in this March 29, 2020 photo. The city decided to call off the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival, the biggest of its kind in the country, for the second consecutive year amid the pandemic. Yonhap

By Bahk Eun-ji

Provincial areas are still suffering as dozens of cultural events in spring, such as flower festivals, have been canceled across the country for the third consecutive year amid the fast spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

The governing bodies of affected regions have been hit particularly hard as tourist spending at these events had been their main source for generating public funds.

Yangpyeong County Office, Gyeonggi Province, decided not to hold its Sansuyu and Korean Beef Festival, which was scheduled to be held in early March.

The county office explained that the cancellation was made to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 and to ensure the safety of visitors.

Icheon City Hall in Gyeonggi Province also announced the cancellation of the Sansuyu Flower Festival that had been held every year from the end of March to the beginning of April for the past 20 years.

It has not been decided whether the Azalea Festival held every April in the Goryeosan area of Ganghwa, Incheon, will be held as scheduled this year. Ganghwa County canceled the festival last year due to the spread of COVID-19.

Visitors look at apricot flowers in Gwangyang, South Jeolla Province in this March 10, 2021 photo. The festival was canceled for the second consecutive year amid the pandemic. Yonhap
Visitors look at apricot flowers in Gwangyang, South Jeolla Province in this March 10, 2021 photo. The festival was canceled for the second consecutive year amid the pandemic. Yonhap

"It is expected that the local economy will suffer due to the cancellation of local festivals again," an official of Gyeonggi Provincial Office.

According to Local Finance Integrated Open System, 523 cultural events and festivals were held by local governments in Korea in 2019 just before COVID-19 broke out.

In particular in 2020, when COVID-19 began to spread throughout the country, the number decreased to 189.

The total amount of direct and indirect investments to promote events and festivals also plummeted to 154.2 billion won ($127 million) from about 500 billion won during the same period.

Official data for last year have not yet been released, but the number is projected to have decreased significantly compared to 2020, considering the ongoing virus situation here.

Local governments are struggling to come up with countermeasures, but it seems difficult to replace the economic effects.

In particular, the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival in Gangwon Province, the biggest ice fishing festival in Korea started in 2003, has been hit hard by its cancellation for a second year.

The ice fishing festival, which is held every January, was so huge that 1.8 million people visited in 2019, just before COVID-19 outbreak, and was so popular that more than 100,000 foreigners visited every year.

More than 200,000 visitors a day used to visit Hwacheon County to experience the event, and the financial effect to the county is estimated to be around 130 billion won. As such, the economic impact on the county has been significant.

This photo shows a number of food products made of Sancheoneo in Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, as the county office decided to cancel the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival. Yonhap
This photo shows a number of food products made of Sancheoneo in Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, as the county office decided to cancel the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival. Yonhap

In response, Hwacheon County Office sold 90 tons of Sancheoneo, which was specially produced to maintain income from the festival.

Sancheoneo canned fish products sold out and a gift set that was released in time for the Lunar New Year was also well received, with the first batch selling quickly.

Nevertheless, the county office said that it is difficult to avoid the financial damage caused by the cancellation of the festival.

"There were a lot of visitors staying in Hwacheon County during the festival, and the direct and indirect effect of vitalizing the local economy was huge," an official of the county office said.

"Although the sales of the products to replace the festival is being carried out smoothly, I think the damage caused by the cancellation is still unavoidable," he said.

As the Hampyeong Butterfly Festival, which attracts about 300,000 visitors a year, has also been canceled for two consecutive years, the Hampyeong County Office is closely monitoring the virus situation this year.

The county office decided to promote the festival as scheduled this year as the central government eased quarantine rules last November.

The Hampyeong Butterfly Festival, held every April, has a huge impact on the local economy in the nearby provinces, including a direct economic effect of 17.7 billion won in the region.

An official from Hampyeong County Office said, "As it had been canceled for two years in a row, it is scheduled to hold the event as scheduled in April while keeping the quarantine guidelines strictly."

"But we have to watch the situation closely right before the festival begins, and if the situation becomes serious, then the plan may change," he said.


Bahk Eun-ji ejb@koreatimes.co.kr


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