Tourism down, Carnival dying

By Raffique Shah
February 01, 2009

TourismPOLITICIANS are wont to making the damnedest statements. This ugly trait is not confined to Trinidad and Tobago’s special breed that litters the political landscape. The recently booed-out-of-office US president George W Bush carved an unmatched record of making the stupidest remarks, maybe of all times. But among the lot that currently vie for media space in this country, we have some gems-or maybe that should be “fools’ gold”.

Sometime early last year, shortly after he took office as Minister of Tourism, Joseph Ross made the bold pronouncement: this country will experience a leap in tourist arrivals in 2008. As I listened to Ross, I asked myself: where he come from Mars, or what? The global economy was already showing signs of decline: the prognosis, according to global economic pundits, was not good. In fact, the plunge from boom to recession shocked even them.

Tourism, while it is a big industry worldwide, is also one of the most fickle because it relies heavily on people’s disposable incomes. Caribbean tourism depends on how well North America and Europe are doing, since they comprise the largest source of our tourists. In 2007 the housing bubble in both continents burst. That left millions of potential tourists homeless, or fighting to keep their roofs over their heads. Then the financial crisis and the global economic crisis hit. Millions lost their jobs in 2008.

Any fool knows that the first cutback people in dire financial straits make is in discretionary spending. Travel and holidaying in exotic destinations are the first casualties of any economic crisis. So where was Minister Ross seeing these “thousands and thousands of tourists” coming from? He sounded much like Mervyn Assam did when the UNC government staged the Miss World competition here, promising not only an overabundance of tourist-arrivals, but huge investments by Donald Trump.

The UNC government did not heed advice to not waste money on that exercise in futility, so it has no moral authority now to ask the present government to postpone the two major conferences scheduled for this year.

Still, it boggles the informed mind as to how Ross could arrive at the conclusions he did. Months later, wearing a “Sad Sack” face, he tells the population that tourist arrivals are down, even for Carnival. Indeed, he was still not facing reality. The Economist reported last week: “The hotel association in Tobago says that only one bed in three is occupied.” That is probably the worst Tobago has experienced in decades. And it will not get better anytime soon. Only the very wealthy (fewer in numbers nowadays) can afford Caribbean hotels’ rates, not to add prohibitive inter-islands air fares.

I did some checking online and came up with startling numbers on hotels’ rates. Whereas in Orlando one can get three-star accommodation for two persons at an average of US$60-$80 per night, in Barbados the average is $120-$200, Curacao $300, Jamaica $120, Tobago $250 and at the highly-touted Hyatt Regency, you pay the princely sum of $300-plus per night, all in US dollars. Now, in this global “guava season”, who the hell will leave Germany or LA or Quebec, travel to the Caribbean only to pay through their noses for sand, sea and poor-quality service?

But that is only part of the problem. Lest the government feels that lowering hotel rates will help, ministers should check this. The Daily Telegraph, following the brutal rape of two Englishwomen in Tobago last October, an incident that followed the murder of a Swedish couple, wrote: “These brutal attacks on visitors will definitely have an adverse affect on tourism,” said Carol Ann Birchwood-James, the President of the Tobago Hotel Association.’ It continued: “You should be aware that there are high levels of violent crime, especially shootings and kidnappings,” the Foreign Office warns. “British nationals have been victims of violent attacks, particularly in Tobago where law enforcement is weak.”‘

If you ask National Security Minister Martin Joseph, he would tell you “crime will be brought under control this year.” It’s precisely what he said last year and the year before. But I shift gears: Culture Minister Marlene McDonald stated only weeks ago that “this Carnival will be the biggest ever”, boasting that “all bands are sold out!” Last Thursday night she ate her words when she admitted that bands are seeing hell selling costumes.

I don’t know if part of her mandate is to assess exactly where Carnival is heading. One bandleader lamented, “Today we hardly see spectators.” True. My family and I are part of the “dropouts”. And I’ll tell the minister, bandleaders and musicians why. Why should I endure traffic and parking horrors to watch half-naked ‘bumsees’, no costumes, and be subjected to jarring, repetitious noise that passes for music?

The last time I enjoyed a Road March was when Shadow sang “Tourist” in 2001. Today, both Carnival and its music are a shadow of what used to be. The tourists? If they seek nudity and lasciviousness, they would find it more easily and cheaply at Jamaica’s Negril beach, or in any of the French islands in the Caribbean.

8 Responses to “Tourism down, Carnival dying”


  • There is no place in this world like Trinidad and Tobago – both people and land! Having said that, Mr. Shah, some of what you wrote may be correct but seeing that God is a Trini, can’t we try to change the ‘not-so-good aspects’ of this lovely island and bring it back to the paradise-status it once was rather to keep harping on the negative side of things. It’s worth an effort or two, wouldn’t you say, if not for us, then certainly for our children and/or grand children. I love T&T and I love Carnival, nadedness and all!

  • Everyone who sits quietly in their private enclaves overseas and only surface to party in the Island usually have a lot to say about making things better; but stay at a distance and hope it gets done without them lifting a finger; such egotistical patriots. The nation can very well rebound from it’s current state but the first step is to get rid of manning and his bunch of imcompetent stooges. They are doing a disservice to the citizens and it’s about time it comes to a halt.

    Also, the citizens are not without fault! they must stand united against all the evils that has overtaken society. When they can begin pointing fingers and getting those responsible for the country’s demise then and only then will the rebuilding begin and healing start. We as a nation need to pay attention around us and be vigilant in sucuring our neighbourhoods. Trinidad and Tobago is such a tiny Island and yet murders, robberies, rape and kidnappings happen in broad daylight and “no one sees anything.” This is sad and the murder and mayhem will continue until we all smarten up…demand accountability from those who hold office and put them all in jail…let them know that T&T is not a “free for all”…

  • “ent yuh like yuh kaiso….
    take dat!”

    Prescient Tigress!

    wonderful! years of dumbing dong kanival and its music have gutted our annual celebration of any real distinctive worth, uniquness and attraction for those reasons.

    it is better to rob the people of their identity to make dem easily controllable.

    sensless jam an’ wine has gutted kaiso of its traditional efficacy, and we are left with a manic-paced, empty, driven music, that nothing but NOISE!

    I live in north America and I used to be frantic every year to follow the Kaiso King contest and who win de Road March…from afar!

    den Kitch ded and UNC move Dimanche Gras to Thursday night, and consigned CRO CRO to the garbish heap, after crowning Mystic Prowler with his hymm, as King.

    I had nutten against the late Prowler but he did not win dat competition fairly. Dat was a UNC gif’

    so since dat time I lorse complete interest in Titty Kanival, because I saw the direction it was taking and did not see what could stop dat awful flow.

    so the Titty elites win! Kaiso is now noise, kanival dying the death deh have imposed on it and the stage for biting social commentary, that singed their bottoms for their mal-administrations of the nations indpendence is just about gone.

    Deh have won! deh have pacified an area of great potential for rebellion and social renewal.

    but wat have deh gained from their victory?

    the social devastation is appalling, jam an’ wine no doubt dying too for there are no tourists to feed it anymore with their ignorance, conditioned to accept dat crap as ‘de real ting’

    the cultured ears of the people is no more…sparrow is old, the stage for the current stalwarts, great as CRO Cro and Aloes are is diminshed. and there is little to feed a new generations of giants.

    Victory yes…by pyrrhic indeed..not so?

  • Linda Edwards sems along a postive path to me!

    we have been conditioned dat all things from government. and we live in patience awaiting government action to address our individual and collecive problems, needs essentials etc.

    dat is a terrible and unnecessary reality.

    soverinty lies with the people in collective..not the government..as in political party in power… the people have empowered on the basis of the specfic program deh were offered and responded positively to.

    the pary in power was given a specific mandate which deh never efect once in power, at the same time effecting all manner of legislation that is put up as basic, fundamental, where the buck stops etc…law that takes first social place.

    but that is a usupation for the party in power was not elected to do that and what deh have done seeks to transcend natual law…what is fact is fundamental…ownership of the society by the people in collective and dat what they want…and most importantly what deh do is in fact fundamental..preceeds any system of laws so set up, any constitutional framework..even if in freferenda the people had previously agrred to it.

    the people can change tgheir minds about anything nationally and move to change it. and the changes they impose in such once stabilised and workable becomes law and recognised internationally.

    the peoples patrimony has been stolen from them by intellectual slieght-of-hand, on a basis of class dominated society and a mode of economi organisation that has put the mass of the people at serios disadvantage.

    it is time for the people to seek solutions by their own hand and brains, in collective actions, programs they will effect and have no need to go to the government for sanction.

    the assumption must be made that such action by the people will fall into legal parameters already esytablished, for the people are not wont to exist in crime..save where regular saving economic activities have been criminilised, and in a reality of joblessness and penury the people have no choice but to break the law…as in the playinf of numbers or whe whe for eg.

    and as such it is the government that lives in occuption and illegality not the people. and like a great predator the people must beware of and look out for the depradations of the government and not the other way around.

    the government then is the enemy and the people victims.

    so the people seriously must organise programs like people used to in the ansence of government activity in times past…like organising credit facilities on pooling their resources to carry their communities forward.

    credit unuionism and co-operatives of one sort or another were vehicles of massive social importance before governments intervened, regularised these activities by legislations supposedly to protect the people.

    on examination it was found that the popular basis and idea of these co-operatives was gutted and the co-operatives turned into capitalist based institutional frames eliminating the democratic base of what the people had created to meet their needs.

    establishing the government in first place the basic vettor of peoples actions in effort to help themselves will always result in such significan social loss of rht people.

    instead the people must conceive of, create and effect solutions to their problems…. and learn how to defend what they create from the government.

    I can say immediately that the banking system in all of the western world is so organised as to fleece the people totally. there can be only one winner given capitalist banking and we see who the winneers are already.

    currently in the world we have the greatest concentration of wealth in the history of the world. who is asking how this can be so…fi there is no one else in world tgrying to get rich save those who already have…and why aret deh getting rich. are these people stupid and incapable…or they up against chosen people who will win, defeat us all, regardless of all our efforts to win as well?

    no! it is the sytem which those who succeeded in emplacing, that facilitates this massive concentration of wealth, and its central machinery is the banking system.

    it wpuld pay the people in the westindies to find ways to finance theior own activities, all of them outside the banking system as it it. the people must mkae micro financial institutions where they live, in their communities, to pool their resources to finace all they need in their lives at no interest charges to themselves…save some small charge to pay for the work of setting up and keeping documents.

    if it becomes necessary the people must make their own currency, or develop means of exchange that by-passes the natgional currency for the simple transactiosn the make in such currency also help to keep the nefarious banking system in place that fleeces them and concentrates the national wealth in few hands.

    that is what most western governments are about..keeping this disgusting banking system in place so that a few can dominate all the credit, all the transactions, and profit every time money changes hands.

    if the people undertsand the banking system and act to eliminate it by by-passing it altogether, we will have national prosperity again…and this time sustainable, if the example of the people becomes the national way of doing banking/business.

    no debt as we have know debt..no usury that is…and a focus on the real economy of goods and services, of the production of commodities..use values ie…the real wealth, the developm,ent of technologies and the sciences which lead to new techniques… and exchange of production for fair prices..not high finance, inflation and endless ponzies, crazy taxation of the people to pay the interest on government debt…debt contracted to enrich the bankers and the government functionaries and political parties the bankers have bought out lock, stock and barrell.

    so the people must not feel that they are bound to go to the government to facilitate their doings, their creations and responses to their needs…needs the government itself have fostered as they have betrayed the peoples interests for their banker friends.

    the people must do, must create, and be prepared to deal with the govenment when it realises what had been going on, and come in with their laws in effort to decapitate the movement, to maintain the disgustingly exploitative status quo.

    no one has a chance given the way banking is set up,,,not the ordinary people, not the middle classes, not the upper middle classes, not even some of the rich.

    there can be only one winner in the end and it is those who set up the system themslevs. those won everything, controll all that is controllable in society, run our and ruin our lives each waking moment.

    it follows only the people in collective action to save themselves contains the answer. the insruments of contgrol must be eliminated and the banking systems takes first place fro elimination, in effort to reclaim social control from those few who now dominate the world

    going to government is no answer. in fact that is suicidal behaviour!

  • Dear Shalimar:

    You are right that we should all try to resolve the problems in Trinidad together, however, if the critical issues are not brought to the fore like in these forums, nothing could ever get done.

    Why, because the government lie and deceive the people, they never admit that we have any problems in T&T and will continue to mislead the public at every opportunity.

    It is imperative that writers write critically and the public are aware of the reality and not just the government propaganda. If we had a government that really cared about the country and people, then your thinking would in line.

    Unfortunately this government does not give a damn about our citizens. The citizens also don’t possess any power to do much, except talk, write and complain. We can’t even express ourselves truly in an election, again, because the political leaders are not leading, but dividing.

  • Very well David , we sense your frustrations so what do you suggest? Should we follow the lead of esteemed progressive states such as Pakistan and Nigeria that won’t allow democracy to take it’s course and ever so often a bunch greedy backward thinking colonels , generals and other military elites high jack the country ? Do you prefer what is being practiced in much admired democratic India where a small Hindu caste have rule that country for over six decades at the expense of 100 or more million Muslims, Sikhs and Christians ?
    How about what the pseudo capitalist socialist dictators in China are doing as they flood the world with shoddy, substandard products and countless uncontrollable diseases the result of undue non regulation , and exploitation of millions of desperate docile workers.? How about Israel, they seem to have it right, hold a general election every two weeks , and form five hundred weak, ineffective , and useless coalition government led by military henchmen disguised as statesmen and women that forever looks to Washington and the American taxpayers for monies to bolster their economy and inflated military arsenal which are used to maintain regional domination over nuvo rich and confused Arabs, Persians, and Turks ?
    No my friend , tell your leaders whosoever they are to get off their collective butts and stop deceiving fragments of the population with nonsense as who or what the enemy is . Try sailing around the world on an inflated tractor tire with no paddles , or fly across the Atlantic with feathers stolen from the wings of the chickens from daddy farm in Toco ,Carapichima , or Second Caledonia, and see how far you’ll get .
    See the analogy ? It is the same kaki pants . The 21st century requires new social , economic ,and political strategies for moving communities, nations , and regions forward. Time for new dispensations and play books my friend . In case many in your camp did not know then you should inform them , that Mao is dead, Castro is senile and dying , Churchill and the entire British empire never cared , Lenin, Marx and Stalin were frauds, the national interest will forever dictate Yankee foreign policy irrespective to who is the President., and none of the other countries cannot or rather do not care to make our problem theirs. Get going and be part of the solution , whining is easy , and you seem to get sadistic pleasures in doing just and only that, hmmmm?

  • I agree with linda 100% Guyana is going true the same thing too.

  • this is long and boring and you are dising my dady

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