New directions light up the Taiwan Lantern Festival

  • Date: 2017-03-07

I. Background

The Lantern Festival, which falls each year on the 15th day of the first lunar month, is the culmination of the Lunar New Year season. People around the nation greet the new year with festive lantern displays, colorful fireworks, raucous firecrackers and glutinous rice ball snacks.

In the past, major temples across Taipei such as Guandu Temple, Ciyou Temple, Qingshan Temple and Lungshan Temple have held impressive lantern displays that drew large crowds each year. To make it easier for the public to enjoy the different festivities, the Tourism Bureau under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications brought these displays together in one place and launched the Taiwan Lantern Festival in 1990, creating what aspires to become a world-class festival.

In the 28 years since its inception, the annual Taiwan Lantern Festival has grown in scale and renown, described by an international cable channel 10 years ago as one of the best festivals in the world. Times have changed, however, and the government is considering new directions to make the festival more creative, environmentally conscious, and reflective of Taiwanese culture and local character, satisfying the public’s expectations and allowing the world to see the beauty of Taiwan.


II. Boost local tourism

A. Attracting visitors and bringing business opportunities:

Every year the Taiwan Lantern Festival attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors who spend tourist dollars at the venues and nearby attractions, creating significant business opportunities for the government as well as local businesses. As an example, this year’s event, held for the first time in central Taiwan’s Yunlin County, drew an estimated 10 million tourists and generated considerable economic value, according to the Yunlin County Government.

B. Showcasing local culture:

To give other locales the opportunity to host this large-scale event and reap the economic benefits, the Taiwan Lantern Festival has rotated around the country since 2001, appearing in Kaohsiung City, Taichung City, New Taipei City, Tainan City, Chiayi County, Tainan County, Yilan County, Chiayi City, Miaoli County, Hsinchu County, Nantou County, Tainan City, Taoyuan City and Yunlin County.

In addition to celebrating cultural heritage, the Taiwan Lantern Festival showcases the unique charms of each location. This year’s festival in Yunlin County, for instance, was organized in Huwei and Beigang townships and featured the themes of ecological conservation, cultural diversity, and Yunlin as the birthplace of the lantern festival in Taiwan. The displays highlighted the county’s unique natural ecology, green energy technologies, ethnic diversity, folk culture, traditional craftsmanship and religious heritages. The traditional artworks, melded with high-tech creativity and green and sustainability concepts, made for a spectacular display of Yunlin’s culture and character.

C. Enhancing local image and development:

The Taiwan Lantern Festival is one of the country’s largest and most prominent festivals, attracting throngs of tourists to the host city or county each year. Local officials have used media and marketing campaigns to create a favorable image and help these visitors learn more about the local scene. Out-of-towners can also take advantage of the trip to tour nearby attractions and savor the cuisine, helping to invigorate the local economy.


III. Build an international brand

This event celebrates and transmits Taiwan’s cultural traditions in a way that revives the joyful experience of Lantern Festival, and makes it a Lunar New Year highlight that people can look forward to and retain in their collective memories. The government also hopes the festival will develop into a world-class tourist attraction similar to Germany’s Oktoberfest, Japan’s Sapporo Snow Festival or Brazil’s Carnival.

The Taiwan Lantern Festival has already established a reputation at home and abroad with its dazzling fusion of tradition, art and technology. In 2007 the Discovery Channel’s “Fantastic Festivals of the World” program declared it one of the best festivals in the world, and in 2015 another international media outlet described it as “Disneyland without roller coasters.”

This year, as part of the New Southbound Policy, the Tourism Bureau invited food and travel shows from Thailand and Indonesia to the festival to give more countries a better understanding of Taiwan’s culture and customs. The government hopes to build the event’s international brand recognition as one of the most important festivals in Taiwan.


IV. Transform the festival while preserving its cultural heritage

Each year, the Taiwan Lantern Festival usually takes its theme from the traditional Chinese zodiac animal of that year. To make the branding for this event sustainable, the Tourism Bureau has identified a number of problems that must be addressed: an event like a lantern festival does not easily lend itself to innovation; the cost of organizing such a large-scale event grows each year; large crowds and heavy traffic are harmful to the environment; lanterns designed for short displays are unsuited for long-term storage; and organizers lack sufficient time to plan activities at a deeper level.

To transform and upgrade the festival’s brand image, the Tourism Bureau has proposed new directions such as the environment, artistry and local surroundings—directions that are in line with popular sustainable development and local travel movements around the world.

Specific reform measures will include building the festival brand as a tourism event, inviting international event organizers to take part, preserving resources for future reuse, incorporating local landscapes and features, announcing event schedules earlier to allow more preparation time, and making the festival a regional-level event to be rotated among regions. More elements of Taiwanese culture, local features and environmental consciousness will also be incorporated to keep the Taiwan Lantern Festival shining brightly and sustainably into the future.


V. Conclusion

Around the world, nations are vying for tourists with travel products that boast unique cultural traditions. The Taiwan Lantern Festival is thus an important brand in Taiwan’s international marketing campaign, as well as a major tourism event that combines celebration and the culture of a different city or county each year, Premier Lin Chuan said at a Cabinet meeting February 9, 2017. He expressed hope that the festival will attract more tourists as it shifts toward environmental, local and cultural themes, and that it would become internationally recognized as one of Taiwan’s top festivals. The Taiwan Lantern Festival will continue to build on its colorful 28-year history, and transform and upgrade itself to bring more light and joy to the people of Taiwan and foreign visitors.