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Taking advantage of our carnival
Posted: Sunday, March 13, 2011

By Derren Joseph
March 13, 2011

Many of us would remember Carnival 2011 as the return of Machel Montano. In terms of the debate about soca meeting politics, I am personally glad that soca has progressed to a stage where artistes are confident enough to express their political views. Likewise, I am also happy that members of the music-loving public also feel free enough to express their own views—whether for and against.

To me, this is a sign of a healthy democracy. We enjoy a level of freedom that would be the envy of so many others in this world. Let us not take it for granted. Like many of us, I hosted guests from overseas and it encouraged me to try to see our festival through their eyes. We criticise ourselves but we need to acknowledge that we have a very well developed Carnival industry: incredibly talented sound engineers, equipment rental professionals, caterers, security companies, artistes, lighting teams, special effects companies, decorators, deejays, event management teams and so on.

These are highly skilled professionals who have a gift for turning a car park or a warehouse from nothing into something special. Wow! I will not grow tired of repeating the results of Dr Keith Nurse's research published in February 2010. He 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. Carnival is 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 per cent.

As many as 10 per cent of our overseas visitors come around Carnival time. There is another reality to consider though. The reality is that we are not the only country holding Carnival at this time of the year. We are not even the only island holding Carnival at this time of the year. It would appear that Seychelles, who just hosted their first Carnival since the 1970s, scored some valuable points for their aggressive online PR. Their team was issuing press releases daily in the run up to their Carnival. Their self described "Carnival of Carnivals" included participants from some 20 other countries, including Trinidad and Tobago! This, according to one of the press releases.

This year my wife and I played with a band called Bliss. On the road Carnival Monday, I bumped into my old London-based friend Ancil Barclay, who has been leading the team that brings out Nottinghill Carnival every year. Even in the frenzy of Carnival Monday, we could not help but spare a few minutes to talk about the immense potential for "properly packaging" this amazing festival of ours. We are so blessed. Ideas for better leveraging this festival abound, but we just seem to struggle when it comes to taking it all to the next step.

Kudos to Advanced Dynamics and Beach House Entertainment, whose joint venture, Carnival TV, packaged and presented our Carnival to audiences around the world in HD. I heard that an estimated 90,000 people around the world viewed Dimanche Gras through this site. This effort is said to have been done without State financing. Many of us wonder about the deeper issue keeping us back. Last week, I was chatting with a Tobagonian student who is doing a Masters degree in Tourism at Florida International University. Our conversation pointed to planning.

We have the talent all around us—stakeholders who have accumulated many years of experience in pulling off the various fetes and Carnival bands each and every year. We also have the stakeholders who have decades of experience in the tourism sector. It would be a shame not to pull them all together to come up with some sort of plan to ensure that Carnival here in Trinidad and Tobago remains the real 'Carnival of Carnivals'. We have much work to do and the clock is ticking. On the stage on Carnival Tuesday morning with Bliss, I saw a Trini friend who is based in Washington DC.

He pulled me aside to say that he is working as a consultant for South Africa which is doing a really big Carnival later this year. (More about this in a future column.) 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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