Once again it is that time of the year when the atmosphere is filled with happiness, laughter, lights and music. It is the season of goodwill, giving and sharing when churches ring out with the chants of choirboys and girls practising Christmas renditions like ‘Silent night holy night’, ‘Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ,’ ‘Oh, come, all ye faithful’, and groups go from house to house singing famous carols such as ‘Jingle Bells’, ‘Rudolph the red nose reindeer’, ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’.
For each one of us, Christmas and New Year ‘s eve celebrations may have different meanings- either it could be a time to connect with family, taking a rushed flight to get closer to a loved one, a long due vacation or a reminder to go shopping. For the kids, its their belief in receiving their secret gifts on Christmas eve from their beloved Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle or simply Santa, whose hometown is Rovaniemi, Lapland, Arctic Circle in Finland where he lives with magical elves and nine flying reindeers.
A market for celebrations
While Christmas is celebrated differently around the world, there are some common elements include lighting of Christmas trees, hanging of wreaths, Christmas stockings, candy canes and creation of nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. We take a look at how some of the countries are enhancing the destination excitement and adding new elements and programmes into its annual events calendar:
|“Christmas and New Year together make for the most important season of the year in Canada.”|
Asst. Vice President, CTC India
In the US, Christmas-related tourist attractions, such as Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree and elaborate animated department store windows in New York City are a major attraction for tourists the world over. In Canada provinces where English is the main language, Christmas traditions are similar to those of the United States with some influence from the UK. “Christmas and New Year together make for the most important season of the year in Canada with a month around merry making and celebrations across the country. To further promote the idea, we educate and encourage our trade partners to package the destination in a way that would allow travellers to enjoy Canada at its best,” says Tina Singh, assistant vice president, CTC India.
A line-up of some of the many Christmas festivities that visitors can be a part of in England include: The Shakespeare Birthplace light show, Christmas celebration at Beaulieu, Cockington Christmas Fayre, Torquay, Festive fun at Hampton Court Palace, Tudor Christmas Feasts, Newcastle Gateshead Winter Festival: NYE Winter Carnival, Christmas at Kew, The Great Christmas Pudding Race – London & Brighton, etc.
|“A growing trend for pop-up, city-centre ski lodges looks set to continue this winter.”|
Regional Manager – Asia Pacific, VisitEngland
“We are not doing any targeted promotions specifically, but are sending out ideas and updates on festivities in England in our trade and consumer newsletters – from the Christmas markets in various parts of England – Manchester being one of the most well known; to winter wonderlands like the magic of Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland. Held annually, this firm family favourite makes its 2013 return with big shows, the popular Christmas market, a glittering observation wheel and of course, the Magical Ice Kingdom. And you don’t have to be up in the mountains to enjoy a ski lodge, as a growing trend for pop-up, city-centre ski lodges looks set to continue this winter,” says Reem Khokhar, regional manager – Asia Pacific, VisitEngland.
While in Luxembourg, Christmas decorations start before advent. December 6 is celebrated as St Nicholas Day and before going to bed on the eve of his visit, children put their plate next to their door with a carrot, or bottle of beer and maybe a letter for St Nicholas. In exchange they wake up to juicy clementines, fresh chocolate figures, ginger-coffee biscuits in the shape of St Nicholas, marzipan and presents such as games and toys. Alain Krier, marketing and research media, Luxembourg National Tourist Office adds, “The decorations represent all the presents God made to the creation. An advent wreath decorates the family table. The wreath has four candles. The first week of the advent one candle gets lit, the next Sunday the second and so forth until all four are spreading light on Christmas Eve.
He adds, “Although Luxembourg is a highly secularised country, its roots are anchored in Roman Christianity. Many Christian feasts are still accepted as official holidays. Independently from religious considerations, celebrating Christmas means commemorating the values of which represent light and family. The ‘Winterlights’ festival immerses the historic centre of Luxembourg in a magical setting. The Christmas markets in various places through the city, the big wheel, the fairground attractions, the Advent circus, street entertainment, processions and parades, exhibitions, shows and concerts create a warm and friendly atmosphere all day long.”
|“Medieval castles are an enchanting setting for most Christmas markets.”|
Director, Sales & Marketing, India
The Christmas market in Berlin beckons with around 60 traditional Christmas markets and winter fun. Romit Theophilus, director, sales and marketing, India, German National Tourist Office (GNTO) informs, “Old town squares and medieval castles are an enchanting setting for most Christmas markets and add to the festive atmosphere of the holiday season. Christmas markets are the perfect place to find a unique Christmas gift or souvenir, such as handmade toys, Christmas ornaments and decorations, pottery, and crystal ware.”
While Southern Germany accounts for some known Christmas markets, Dresden, east Germany is one of Germany’s oldest and largest Christmas markets. The Striezelmarkt in Dresden takes its name from the striezel, Dresden’s speciality stollen cake. The highlights include the world’s tallest Christmas pyramid (14 metres) and the Stollenfest. “This is like exploring a giant storybook of the imagination, with themed worlds, 150 shows and performances daily, food and drink and shopping,” opines Theophilus. Further to South Germany, in Nuremberg, the Christmas Angel opens on November 29, the town’s famous Christkindlesmarkt on Hauptmarkt square in the old quarter. This city offers a medieval atmosphere, authentic Nuremberg gingerbread, Nuremberg bratwurst, Advent and Christmas concerts in the churches, traditional Nativity scenes in the baroque church of St. Aegidius and in Spitalgasse, an exhibition of historical market stalls in the town hall.
|“Tourism Ireland helps make these festivities tourist friendly.”|
In Ireland, tourist attractions like the Dublin Castle and Titanic Belfast have special Christmas events for kids and families alike – plays and performances, storytelling and dancing are the order of the day and of course there is always an inhouse Santa, with his elves. Hotel accommodations like Dromoland, Ashford Castle, Ballynahinch Castle, Carton House and many more have special Christmas packages for families visiting them during the period. “Tourism Ireland supports these activities and festivities and helps make them tourist friendly. We market the special events at home and in the overseas markets as well. Several media like print and online are used to spread awareness amongst the traveller community,” mentions Huzan Fraser, representative India, Tourism Ireland.
The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) is launching ‘Hong Kong WinterFest’ once again as its promotional platform for the winter season. Targeting young adults and families from short-haul markets, HKTB is packaging and promoting a series of exciting events and activities, as well as shopping offers in the city, encouraging visitors to experience the festive ambience of Hong Kong’s winter holiday season. Peter Hoslin, regional director, Europe and new markets, HKTB adds, “‘Wishes on the Wind’ is this year’s highlight as Hong Kong makes dreams come true under its newest Christmas centerpiece, WISH in a form the art installation created by young American artist Robert James Buchholz and appearing in Hong Kong for the first time. Depicting three contemporary dandelions losing their seeds in the wind, this dramatic Christmas sculpture soars more than five storeys high (15 metres) in the air, constantly changing colours to music in a specially choreographed seasonal installation at Central’s Statue Square.”
In Philippines, one of the major attractions during this time is Cubao’s Giant Christmas tree which has a height of almost 100 feet. Located near the Araneta Center and filled with more than ten thousand lights and gigantic ribbons this surely attracts and enchants the onlookers and spectators. The Giant Lantern Festival in the city of San Fernando, Pampanga showcases colourful gigantic lanterns made by skilled craftsmen of San Fernando annually. One can expect large lanterns of up to 15 metres high, with as many as 16,000 bulbs at the event dancing to an interplay of colours to the tune of Christmas songs. The other attractions include Policarpio Street in Mandaluyong, COD Christmas Show in Greenhills, Divisoria in Central Manila.
If that was not all, one of the reasons why travellers must visit Malaysia too during Christmas is because of the 1 Malaysia Year End Sale which is on till January 5, 2014. This sale makes Christmas shopping even more exciting with unbelievable surprises thrown in. Foreign tourists and locals have a whopping 55 days to make the most of the great discounts and special offers put together by various shopping malls nationwide. Shopping malls also host numerous exciting events to make Malaysia the place to go to for shopping, fashion and food throughout 1 MYES 2013. Getting into the festive mood is Cape Town, South Africa which will have the hallways and entrances of the Victoria Wharf Shopping Mall transformed into a captivating underwater world of blue, gold and silver while baubles adorned with silver stars will hang overhead. There will be a Santa’s Workshop in the Centre Court too. The V&A Waterfront is known to be the best free New Year celebration with something in store for families, friends and fun-seekers.
Call of culture
|“In 2012, the Philippines recorded 4.27 million tourist arrivals.”|
Market Representative – India
Now that we have seen how few of the national tourism boards are promoting their destinations, the question which arises is on how many Indians actually decide to travel abroad during these festive period. Giving clarity on the thought, Fraser says, “The Indian traveller has slowly transformed into a savvy visitor who is able to appreciate different cultures. Festivals and events add to the attraction of a destination, since it offers an exciting experience at a location you aspire to visit. There have always been visitors from the niche travel segment, visiting the island of Ireland in the festive season in winters. But the numbers have been increasing for the last few years. Christmas all across Ireland, specially at one of the castle/country properties like Ashford Castle or Carton House and New Year’s Eve in Dublin are slowly becoming popular and we can predict that the visitor numbers will soon grow exponentially for December, like the summer holiday season.”
Khokhar informs, “Festivities aren’t probably the sole motivation when planning a trip, but people do take into account festivals or cultural events that they may be able to experience when visiting a destination. A leisure visitor or for those visiting their friends and relatives may plan their visits around a festival so that they get to experience some of the local festivities.”
Canada being the second largest country in the world offering a myriad of experiences to every traveller has also been experiencing a surge in tourist numbers. Reasoning the same, Singh says, “Coming from a culturally rich background, an Indian traveller usually has a strong penchant for all things traditional. We have observed a lot of Indians travelling to Canada during the peak season of winter and summer but their itineraries are not generally festival specific. They do, however, include regional festivals or events in their trips if they happen to visit the destination during those days. A similar trend was also noted during the growth in November- December 2012.” But she is quick to add that, “with the endless celebrations that Canada offers throughout the year, some of the most frequented festivals in Canada include the Carnival de Quebec- Old Quebec, Winter festival of lights- Niagara Falls, Calgary Stampede – Alberta, the Whistler World Ski and Snowboard Festival- B.C, and Montreal International Jazz Festival – Montreal.”
|“The festivities include traditional performances and colourful parades.”|
Highlighting one or more of Hong Kong’s core appeals has been the agenda of HKTB. Hoslin mentions that the tourism board will be rolling out altogether 10 major campaigns featuring diverse portfolio of events during the year. HKTB has been actively developing India as a new market to open up new visitor sources. Talking about few unique selling points of the destination, he reveals, “Hong Kong is known for major cultural and amusement events, glitzy Christmas displays, the lighting up of Victoria Harbour, markets and special Christmas sales, and specially prepared Christmas dinners in hotels and restaurants. The resplendent Victoria Harbour is the belle of the ball for Hong Kong’s spectacular New Year countdown. A party atmosphere reigns supreme as an eight-minute pyromusical display lights up the skies above the iconic Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Our tourism arrivals reported satisfactory growth during the first ten months of the year 2013 with 12.3 per cent growth compared to last year. Visitor arrivals from India for the first 10 months of 2013 recorded a 4.2 per cent increase as compared to same period of 2012.”
San Jeet, market representative – India, Philippines Tourism mentions, “In 2012, the Philippines recorded 4.27 million tourist arrivals after the Department of Tourism launched a widely publicised tourism marketing campaign titled ‘It’s More Fun in the Philippines’. In a recent survey the Department of Tourism (DOT) Philippines stated that the country achieved an increase of 11.28 per cent in a period of six months.”
Manoharan Periasamy, director, Tourism Malaysia points out, “The annual festivals like Rainforest Festival, Ramadan, Sabah Fest, Borneo Jazz Festival, etc, celebrate Malaysia’s unique blend of cultures and communities. The festivities include traditional performances and colourful parades, showcasing Malaysian arts and crafts and presenting the rich traditions and mouth-watering delicacies of many ethnic groups. We have observed a substantial growth especially during these festive celebrations. India is a top ten market for Malaysia. Promotional efforts during the festive season are expected to increase the numbers significantly. It is also the perfect opportunity to foster greater cooperation between tour operators and members of the tourism fraternity.”
(With inputs from Steena Joy)