"Visitors from abroad are likely to combine their visit to the festival with a longer stay in the country," echoed Nicholas Motz, a guest lecturer at Chulalongkorn University's economics faculty. "The money spent as they travel around the country before and after the festival is probably more important economically than what they spend at the festival itself."
But like other tourism-dependent industries in Thailand, festivals are prone to political risk.
The death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Oct.13 pushed the nation into a one-year mourning period and resulted in a temporary ban on joyous events, which resulted in Wonderfruit, Paradise Island and Mystic Valley postponing their original dates to honor the regulations. Any action perceived to be defaming, violating or insulting the monarchy bear serious punishment, according to Thai lese majeste laws.
There are also more persistent issues plaguing festivals, warned Lewis of Eurasia. "For one, licenses and policing is haphazard at best, politically motivated at worst. Generally the government wants to support tourism, but local governments and police are less consistent in their application of the rules."
He pointed to an instance where a festival got cancelled because local authorities were concerned that the event would bring an unacceptable concentration of 'red shirts,' or supporters of former prime ministers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra. People opposed to the Shinawatras are called 'yellow shirts' and the two groups are known for their violent clashes.
Thailand has a history of political instability, having faced 19 military coups—12 successful—since becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
For now, the country still has a long way to go before becoming Asia's festival hub.
"There needs to be more diversity besides popular electronic acts and top-40 billboard bands. Eclectic indie bands rarely play Thailand and if they do, it's at small events," warned Wonderfruit's Phornprapha. "Generally, Thai people still listen to Thai music, or whatever anyone else is listening to, so the change needs to come from the ground up, with more exposure and radio play of more genres, to create the demand."
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