Dragon calling: how cultural heritage festivals boost tourism

Study focused on Macau’s Feast of the Drunken Dragon and involving an IFTM scholar, highlights heritage-event contributions to tourism

Research Corner | A partnership between Macau Business and the Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM)

Festivals such as Macau’s Feast of the Drunken Dragon – celebrating the city’s intangible cultural heritage – can play an important role in cementing Macau’s position as a tourism destination, says a study involving a scholar from the Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM). According to the authors, cultural events perceived by tourists as ‘authentic’ in terms of connection to the city, can help counter a common perception of Macau as solely a casino destination.

“The study findings affirm that tourist-festival experiences have a holistic effect in transforming the image of Macau” for outsiders, showing them the city has “diverse and unique” features that make Macau a “destination that merits revisiting,” the researchers wrote.

The work was produced by IFTM lecturer Dr. Vicky Chen Zhaoyu, in partnership with scholars Dr. Wantanee Suntikul and Prof. Brian King, the latter associate dean in the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Their paper, titled “Constructing an intangible cultural heritage experiencescape: The case of the Feast of the Drunken Dragon (Macau)”, was published last year in the academic journal Tourism Management Perspectives.

Using the case of the Feast of the Drunken Dragon in Macau, the paper investigated how intangible cultural heritage ‘experiencescapes’ are constructed. The authors reinforced and extended the application of ‘experiencescape’ in heritage field. They advocated that experiencescape can be used as an approach or an analytical tool to understand how experience is constructed and consumed by multiple stakeholders in continuous stages (from the pre-trip to the post-trip).

Tourism diversification

The Feast of the Drunken Dragon is a traditional folk festival celebrated by fishmongers in Macau. It traditionally takes place on the eighth day of the fourth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. The festival features a variety of activities, including the consumption of ‘longevity rice’ and the hosting of the ‘Drunken Dragon Parade’: the latter involves men drinking wine and performing the ‘drunken dragon dance’ while holding either the head or the tail of a wooden dragon sculpture.

The Feast of the Drunken Dragon is included in both the Macau list and the national list of intangible cultural heritage. The event is promoted by the Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO) as one of the city’s major cultural tourism events. The local community is deeply involved in the event.

For their study, the authors conducted a number of in-depth interviews with stakeholders linked to the Feast of the Drunken Dragon. Their goal was to identify the involvement, respectively, of government officials, organisers, performers, shop owners and tourists in experiencescape construction.

“Tourists expressed appreciation for the festival largely because it is not staged expressly for them, but rather manifests a welcoming local culture,” the researchers said. The authors pointed out that immersion in the local intangible cultural heritage ‘experiencescape’ countered impressions among tourists of Macau being “a commercialised and gaming-dominated destination”.

In addition, taking part in the festival helped build “emotional connections” linking the visitors to Macau, “through feelings of meaningful contact” with the local society and culture. “It is probable that such feelings cannot be readily instilled by casino and gaming experiences,” added the researchers.

They said: “This suggests that festivals and other intangible cultural heritage elements can play pivotal roles in marketing Macau as a diversified destination, thereby countering overreliance by the city on gaming-related activities.”

The authors suggested that the facilitation roles assumed respectively by Macau’s Cultural Affairs Bureau and MGTO regarding the Feast of the Drunken Dragon, but with the running of the festival left to community-based groups, “likely contributes to the authentic heritage atmosphere rather than the sense of an event that has been purposefully staged for tourists in the pursuit of economic gain”. This, the authors wrote, “may ultimately contribute to the economic benefits, by engendering emotional and intellectual engagement with the festival among tourists, inspiring them to revisit the city and recommend [it] to others.”

– The researchers

Dr. Vicky Chen Zhaoyu is a lecturer at the Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM). She holds a PhD from the School of Hotel and Tourism Management in The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Dr. Chen is an IFTM alumna, having gained from the Institute a Bachelor’s Degree in Heritage Management in 2012. She is a professional member of the Hong Kong Institute of Architectural Conservationists. Her research interests cover cultural tourism, heritage and conservation.

Dr. Wantanee Suntikul is a former assistant professor at the School of Hotel and Tourism Management of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She has a doctorate from the University of Surrey, in the United Kingdom. Besides work in teaching and research, Dr. Suntikul has been involved in several tourism-related consultancy projects in Southeast Asia. Her core research interests are in the political, social and environmental aspects of tourism planning and development, and in poverty alleviation.

Prof. Brian King is associate dean in the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He holds a PhD from Monash University, in Victoria, Australia. Prof. King is an experienced scholar and has published a number of academic articles on tourism in the Asia-Pacific region. He is also joint editor-in-chief of academic journal Tourism, Culture and Communication.

– The paper

Zhaoyu Chen, Wantanee Suntikul and Brian King: “Constructing an intangible cultural heritage experiencescape: The case of the Feast of the Drunken Dragon (Macau)”, Tourism Management Perspectives, Volume 34, 2020.