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Preparing for C2K11
Posted: Thursday, August 19, 2010

By Derren Joseph
August 19, 2010

It appears that we are in the middle of the "band launching season", if such a thing exists. New bands Oasis, Yuma and Skullduggery are on the scene while established band, Tribe, has split in two for 2011 and its second band is called Bliss...The INTIMATE Carnival Experience. Perhaps Tribe understands that nothing stays in its present form forever and that all "products" have a life cycle. Just as Tribe realized that changes need to be made to enable them to stay "ahead of the curve", is there a learning opportunity there for our wider tourism industry as well?

Trinidad Carnival is big business. Dr Keith Nurse's research published in February this year, reported that mas players spend about $93.4 million, and fetes earn over $500 million as part of a total carnival economic contribution of $1.3 billion. But carnival can be argued to be an important contributor to an even bigger business – our tourism economy. An industry which is estimated at $5.7 billion and of which the domestic tourism component comprises about 70%.

My position has consistently been that total spend is perhaps a slightly more important indicator than visitor numbers when assessing performance of the tourism sector. Consider that, according to Dr Nurse, in 1998 St Lucia Jazz had just under 10 000 visitor arrivals while Trinidad carnival had 32 000. Yet the total spend of both was about US$14 million.

But let us focus on our carnival. In March, this newspaper carried a story on 2010 carnival performance from the hotelier point of view. The Trinidad Hotels, Restaurants and Tourism Association (THRTA) pointed out that for carnival 2010, Port-of-Spain's room stock increased by 425 rooms – there were about 10 000 room nights available, compared to 7 574 room nights in 2009. To fill all these rooms, rates came down by 17.6% in February 2010 but occupancy levels were still down 6.5% on 2009 levels. For hoteliers to cut rates and receive fewer guests at the busiest time of their calendar year was tough. But it was not just the hotels feeling the pinch, I remember anecdotes suggesting that the airlines felt it too.

It is clear that our collective approach to carnival needs to change or our tourism stakeholders will again feel the economic pinch in C2K11. One of the suggestions made by the THRTA is that the fete / event industry must set their dates and prices of events long in advance to allow the development of total carnival holiday packages to attract additional customers. The proposed deadline is mid October. The THRTA went on to suggest that tickets to events must also be made available long in advance so that hotels and tour operators can sell these packages. The example of this concept in 2010 was that one particular small hotel offered a package including two carnival costumes, the hotel room, all transfers, along with access to certain parties and carnival events, all for one price. Apparently, this small hotel was totally sold out for the season with a significant increase in total revenue.

Our premier festival is quite difficult for the average person to navigate without a guide (although I acknowledge the work of Saucy at - Some of us locals have problems understanding which events are happening when (and how to find tickets) – it is immeasurably more difficult for someone coming from outside of Trinidad. But positive change is coming. Two weeks ago, the press carried a story on the Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Service Industries (TTCSI) being funded by the Inter-American Development Bank to develop the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival Industry through innovative ICT. Specifically, they are apparently looking at creating a proper one stop web portal on or for Carnival. The press release was not specific but I imagine a single website where anyone can access information on various events, various bands / costumes, accommodation etc. Given our somewhat complex maze of stakeholders, creating such a website will not be an easy task. It is however, a very necessary task. We look forward to hearing more from the TTCSI on this laudable initiative in due course.

We in Trinidad and Tobago have so much to offer the world. Some like me, argue that our unique offering to the world is our cultural expressions. Not just our carnival, but we have Hosay, Divali, We Beat, Pan-Jazz, Borough Day and so on. Leveraging all our cultural expressions or festivals is critical as we seek to diversify our economy away from energy.

My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country. As always, I end by saying that despite our challenges, we are so blessed to live in this beautiful land. Let us continue to have the audacity of hope in our country, as we embark upon the next chapter in our nation's history.

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