Participants clad in traditional attire lined up at the Kisama heritage village during the hornbill festival last year

Kohima: For the first time, the mega hornbill festival in Nagaland will be heading for a virtual celebration this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As virtual events have become a new digital trend, the virtual celebration of the ‘festival of festivals’ this December is likely to keep the spirit of the festival alive till the time hornbill can be celebrated in the usual grand manner.

The annual Hornbill festival which is celebrated from December 1-10 is a time when thousands of domestic and international tourists visit the state to explore the rich culture and heritage of the state, giving opportunities for local businesses to generate income.

Speaking with EastMojo, Akhrielie David Solo, the ‘traveller-in-chief’ of India Trail’, an eco-tour agency based in Kohima says that the business is “more or less dead this year” as the agency has stopped any bookings till December.

For the tourism industry, the income generated during the season around hornbill festival is the “biggest” in a year. “Within the span of ten days or half a month before and after it, we can make enough to sustain through the year,” he said.

However, due to the pandemic, Solo said that it does not want a physical hornbill celebration. “To continue the hornbill even if it is virtual, at least the continuity of the hornbill celebration will keep the interest of the festival till next year,” he said.

Solo, who is also the president of the Nagaland Tourism Association (NTA) reiterated its stand to support the celebration of the hornbill festival in a virtual form. “We are happy that the government is having a virtual hornbill,” he said further adding that this could provide an opportunity for the entertainment industry to benefit in a little way.

Since tour business remained completely shut during this year, he expressed hope that the services will open up by early next year. The tourism department recently informed that the Government of Nagaland has decided to celebrate the Hornbill festival in a completely virtual mode only through various audio-visual media channels and Social Media platforms, the content for which the same will be sourced from government archives.

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Pezangunuo Kerho, a floriculturist who is also the winner of the Hornbill Cactus and Succulent competition for three consecutive years — 2016, 2017 and 2018, says that the decision of the state government to conduct a virtual celebration is a “wise decision”.

“I feel that those who participate and have stalls every year will be affected because usually, Christmas expenses come from the earnings during the hornbill or the night bazaar. But health is a priority, and the pandemic has affected the whole world. So, to go about with a celebration with thousands of people is dangerous. The virtual hornbill is a smart move,” she added.

She said that for her, the sale of flowers during the hornbill is “not as promising as it sounds”, although there has been no instance of running into a loss. “It is an advertisement for me and my products. Usually, after hornbill, people contact me or drop into my store,” she added.

Earlier in October, the state government was criticized by the opposition party and various other people after a notification of the tourism department which directed allied departments to initiate preparations for the annual Hornbill Festival circulated on online.

On November 7, the tourism department officially notified the virtual celebration of the festival. Last year, the hornbill festival at the Naga Heritage village in Kisama recorded a total of 2,68,811 including 55,584 domestic tourists and 3,015 foreign tourists.

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