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Culture and Tourism
Posted: Monday, September 28, 2009

By Derren Joseph
September 28, 2009

One of the criticisms of the 2010 budget has been around efforts at economic diversification away from oil and gas. As a supporter of our tourism industry, I was pleased to see the investment in redeveloping Maracas—one of my favourite beaches. I am also pleased that the British couple who were the victims of that unfortunate attack, are now recovered and may even return to their Bacolet home in Tobago.

logo In a recent email, they recognised that "one person's act is not a reflection of a nation." I smiled when I read that they will "continue to speak highly of the islands…as there are a lot more good people than bad." It is something I strongly believe: in our sweet T&T, there are still more good people than bad. I am sure many would agree with me when I say that our biggest asset is our rich, diverse and warm culture. Some UN agencies also agree.

Unesco, UNCTAD and the ILO are jointly working on a four-year initiative to strengthen creative industries in five developing African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. One of the chosen five is Trinidad and Tobago. Two weeks ago, the Trinidad and Tobago National Commission for Unesco hosted a two-day national consultative meeting for stakeholders on copyright protection and the diversity of cultural expressions. One point made by Unesco's Dr Boafo was that many nations claim to have sun, sea and sand. Therefore, a sustained advantage could only come from promoting something truly unique, such as our culture.

Some years ago, when I worked in the tourism trade in the UK, I was amused to discover that some consumers actually thought Sandals was an island or a destination on its own. Because most islands offer basically the same thing, Caribbean travel brochures tend to focus on the hotels. The only island that seemed to have successfully positioned itself as more than beautiful hotels was Cuba.

Havana is all about the energy and the culture—not the hotels.

With this in mind, I was glad that the Unesco meeting had good representation from the Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Development Company. The nexus between tourism and culture is an exciting one. Aside from the revenue opportunities that come from the 200-plus Trinidad and Tobago-influenced carnivals that exist worldwide, an emerging opportunity seems to be coming from the film industry.

Carla Foderingham, CEO of the T&T Film Company, was saying that during the last ten years, more than 318 productions had been shot here, contributing $32 million to our local economy. The classic example in my mind is the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which took New Zealand to the next level, both as a tourist destination and a film location. Or, we can even think about what Ian Fleming's James Bond did for Jamaica. Exciting things are happening in our local film industry. There is much to see in the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival. Their Web site is

Let us continue to support our own. A contentious area is local content. Many industry stakeholders, including my good friend, Rubadiri Victor, are strong advocates of the government mandating that a certain percentage of radio broadcasts and maybe even television programmes should be locally-produced. There are arguments both for and against this. In the meantime, it appears to me that there are probably more broadcast hours of locally-produced content now than ever before in our history.

While we could still do better, I think we have come a long way. We are now more confident in who we are as a people, and have come a long way in valuing our local artistes. At the same time, I acknowledge that there is still much work to be done. A shining example for me is Synergy TV. It is probably the No 1 channel in its targeted demographic, and competes strongly against foreign cable channels. As those of us who travel would have noted, its content is also available on US cable channels that target our diaspora.

Our chutney stars, soca stars and dancers now perform before international broadcast audiences. As I typed this article, I was told that Sandy's Roti Shop, on Liberty Avenue in Queens, New York, has now added bake and shark to their menu. From Maracas Bay to New York City? We are much more than sandy beaches; we have an amazing culture to share with the world.

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