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It's Carnival Time Again
Posted: Sunday, February 20, 2011

By Derren Joseph
February 20, 2011

A couple weeks ago, I was on a flight to Mexico City and as usual, I ended up chatting with the person next to me. An accountant with PWC in Mexico City, he was a young football fanatic. When I told him I was from Trinidad, the first thing he said was –"Oh! That's where Jack Warner is from." I smiled as he explained that he was always curious as to how such a small nation like ours, could produce a man who is so powerful in the Concacaf region. When it came time to fill out the customs and immigration forms, he borrowed my pen. It was a Tourism Development Company (TDC) pen, with the TDC logo and the tag line–'The True Caribbean'. That is when the conversation switched from football to tourism. My new friend began reminiscing about a cruise around the Southern Caribbean he had done with his family. I was proud that he had visited our region as I thought that he is exactly the type of higher-end tourist that our region wants to attract.

Unfortunately however, he confessed that after the first few stops, he did not bother to disembark from the ship, as to him, all the islands seemed the same and to be honest, he struggled to tell them apart.

What makes each of our islands truly unique is the culture. As we seek to attract more visitors to our island, it would be sad if we forgot that it is our culture that makes us who we are–that makes us special. The following day I got an e-mail from a fellow tourism consultant. It was a story carried in eTurboNews, an e-newsletter for tourism professionals. The story was about the top five Carnivals in the world outside of Brazil. While being unclear about the criteria used to determine their ranking, they listed–Malta and Gozo in the Mediterranean, Kvarner in Croatia, Victoria in the Seychelles, Madeira in Portugal, and Orura in Bolivia. Not a single word about Trinidad and Tobago. I could picture my friend who forwarded the e-mail, holding her head and bawling! What exactly is our Carnival promotional strategy again? Is it working? Prove it!

Whether we like it or not, about one in ten of T&T's annual visitors come during the bacchanal season. Tourism is an industry tasked by both the past and present administrations with raising GDP and generating jobs. I repeat that Dr Nurse's research published in February 2010, reported that mas players spend about $93.4 million, and that fetes earn over $500 million as part of a total Carnival economic contribution of $1.3 billion. Yet the absence of any clear Carnival strategy continues to be evidenced by declining visitor numbers. Tourism decision makers should be hugging this festival tightly and walking hand in hand with our cultural promoters and entrepreneurs. But when I feel disenchanted, I remember that the hard work being put in by many will reap benefits with time. The Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Service Industries (TTCSI) is working on a project called–ICT Innovations for the masquerade sector in Trinidad and Tobago TT-M1021. In short, the project seeks to create a one-stop Carnival Web site, or Carnival hub, to promote economic growth for micro, small and medium size businesses in the masquerade sector. An idea that is long overdue, the project goes beyond the web-based platform to help equip these enterprises with the skills and capacity to take their business forward.

I am convinced that Carnival needs to be a more central part of our tourism strategy. Yes, on the one hand, there may be bands that are content to visit Samaroo's in Port-of-Spain, design a BBF (bikini, beads and feathers) prototype, FedEx it to a supplier in China, who will mass produce it and ship it back to Trinidad for 'Carnival'. But on the other hand, remember that there are bands like Trini Revellers in Woodbrook. Speaking to Enrico Rajah about his band, he explained that his costumes are 100 per cent local, give masqueraders the choice of wearing a full costume, and be part of a presentation that consistently shows that it is possible to balance BBF mas with portrayals with genuine themes that impress judges and win competitions. (Check out 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 the future of our beloved country.

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