The Dinagyang Festival 2021 and the business of crowds

The Dinagyang Festival 2021, Iloilo City’s “Queen of Festivals,” will set a new record as the first digital festival. No doubt about it, it will be a showcase of how Coronavirus have shaped the organizing of the annual crowd dependent multi-million profit event.

The 2021 version of Dinagyang offers a glimpse of how a virus can pull off the plug on events whose primary reason for being is to bring people together, and for events’ organizers to earn a profit from people who will watch the performance and mingle on the streets for food and drinks.

Admittedly, the more than 50 year old Iloilo Dinagyang has survived under a pretext of a religious-cultural event, but essentially, it has thrived as a festival because a crowd means business.

The transition from the conventional street-based Dinagyang Festival to a digital platform illustrates the power of the business of crowds. It attempts to redirect the crowd online, probably this time, counting on viewers instead of ticket sales.

At the global stage, organizers of events are smoothly transitioning to a new platform but they also underscored a lot of factors why online faced limited success. Iloilo will find out the level of success and its challenges after the event.

The Dinagyang Festival is a business event 

The digital Dinagyang is an experiment on how organizers of events will assemble themselves in order to effectively manage future events.

These are hinted from the statements of the leaders of the Iloilo Dinagyang Foundation Inc. (IFFI), the Ilonggo Artists Festival Association, Inc. (IAFA), and even the Iloilo Live Events Alliance (ILEA) – groups whose business are sustained by crowds who attend live events.

Take for instance the Dinagyang, in previous years tickets would cost P1,500 to 2,200 per person for those who would prefer to watch live tribes performance on-stage like the Freedom Grandstand. Considering 3,000 to 4,000 tickets for the festival highlight alone means close to P10 million.

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Likewise, Dinagyang wouldn’t be complete without filling up every inch of the downtown with a food kiosk. The 2.5-by-2.5 meters space costing P5,000 per kiosk across the city streets is a source of revenue. In addition, the corporate PR, marketing, advertising and promotions of products and brands that enhances the festive mood are in billions of pesos.

Count in Dinagyang as a grand tourism event that invites a crowd of travelers and you get the full picture of its economic value. The extent of Dinagyang as a tourism crowds business is best explained by Iloilo Business Club executive director Lea Lara when she said in a 2019 news report that the “festival has translated into economic benefits. Unique at that, the festival is not just about the parade. It’s about food, arts, performances, sports. It is multi-faceted. It’s a poster event of Ilonggos.”

In 2019, the Iloilo City Government allotted P25 million for Dinagyang Festival, an amount that was also matched by IFFI and with funds support from the Dept. of Tourism.

The Dinagyang Festival crowd
Conventional to digital: The pre-pandemic days of the Dinagyang Festival which showed thousands of people on a street party along the stretch Iloilo City’s downtown area. (Photo by journalist and photog Tara Yap)

The crowd business and profitability

The live events industry is struggling with crowds problem as a result of rules mandating observance of health protocols like wearing of a face mask, a face shield, and constant reminder of physical distancing.

The health protocols has practically wiped out all major planned events last year. By the third and fourth quarter of 2020, live events organizers have restructured key elements of organizing to comply with pandemic health rules, like selection of large venues both outdoor and indoor, alternating sitting arrangement, table barriers, and a sanitary agent scattered around. All health protocol requirements considered, trade fairs became a monthly affair.

Physical or social distancing rules, however, have forced organizers to think hard and innovate on how to move around with the business of crowds to ensure profitability.

Apparently, they grappled on the following regulations: how to maintain a 50 percent maximum venue capacity; how to ensure that crowds coming in fill up contact tracing forms and QR code apps properly; proper wearing of face mask and face shield; and even on how to keep customers apart while moving around.

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The struggle to comply with health protocol rules was evident and to say that live events were a health regulatory nightmare is an understatement.

The Merkado Iloilo Weekend Market at the Iloilo Convention Center is a good case sample on how organizers confronted the problem of crowd business. Yet people cannot be blamed if they have turned a blind eye on the obvious lapses on health protocols. First, they feared that raising an issue will result to controversy. Issues related to health protocols gets politicized. Second, the consequence of raising an issue like a lapse of health protocols could potentially lead to suspension of future events. No one wants to earn the ire of live events organizers and its sponsors.

Trade fairs like Market Market, Merkado, and the like, lose their value and economic benefit if there are only a handful of visitors and not a crowd. What more with Dinagyang Festival? The fun fever is different when people come together instead of being just in front of a screen. Grab Food and Food Panda is good business and a source of employment for delivery workers, but it is only as good as the food delivered on your doorstep. Who wants to eat alone?

READ: Iloilo Dinagyang Digital Festival made Ilonggos proud

The challenges confronted by live events organizers will manifest perhaps a hundred times over in the live side events of Dinagyang Festival 2021, even discounting a grand food festival on the streets. People will party within the household and on their communities where they will watch the live streaming of Dinagyang. The Dinagyang will be a community-based event and barangay officials will have a hard time enforcing health protocols.

Large events, like the Iloilo Dinagyang Festival, are best enjoyed in person, because a festival is a business of crowds. People, near or far, travel to be there and to spend money just to mingle and socialize with others. The Ilonggos will find their way to join with others and share food, drinks, if not a Coronavirus.

The Dinagyang Festival 2021 is different. It changes each year after all. But this time you need to take a look around you – see for yourself – what has changed and what has remained the same.

*The article Dinagyang Festival 2021 and the business of crowds has also appeared at the Iloilo Metropolitan Times. 

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