Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is facing competition of its own making. The pretty mas street parade emblematic of a frenetic Carnival Tuesday jump up has been replicated the world over, and even in the region, what constitutes Jamaica’s or Barbados’ carnival is ultimately based on TT’s own “bikini and beads” fiesta.
The challenge now, National Carnival Commission chief executive Colin Lucas told Business Day in a recent interview, is to create a niche product that differentiates the TT product as the original and best. His solution? Investment and development of the traditional mas, intrinsically part of TT’s cultural heritage.
“Why would somebody spend US$800 to see bikini and beads on a nice body and see the same thing in Jamaica or Miami or anywhere else for US$250? We have to create our niche because the experience will be different, so the choice isn’t just on where they can see pretty mas. Instead they can come to Trinidad and have a totally different carnival experience that is just not available in those other places,” Lucas said.
This is not a new concept. The conversation about enriching the carnival product has been bandied about for years. But Lucas insists this time, it’s different.
“Regional carnival (within TT) was always very important but now as we examine and tear apart our carnival product, we realise regional is even more critical than we thought and for a simple reason — anybody can do pretty mas. The thing is, most of the carnivals that have taken their cue from TT Carnival. They do a single route parade with pretty mas. What we can do is strengthen and build our niche (with traditional mas). No other carnival has the competence we have,” he said.
It’s a shift in the NCC’s strategy, he said, something he believed has not been done before.
“Before I was here, I wasn’t hearing that conversation and the mere fact is that the (major pretty mas bands) have blossomed and grown while traditional mas has been getting smaller. That says what the national conversation has been. The NCC in its current iteration is saying how can we get people to commit to coming here and spending money. We have to develop our niche and our core,” he said.
And it’s not simply about courting the private sector because they are already involved, he said, noting that most of the major mas bands and promoters are private entities anyway.
“We have to be blunt. Private investment is attracted by people who want to know what’s in it for them. If only ten people are interested in traditional mas, you aren’t going to get investors. When it grows to 10,000 then the private sector will come calling,” Lucas said.
These people aren’t here to do the traditional mas a favour, he said. “They are here to leverage the popularity of whatever we are providing so their product and services can benefit. We have to do what we have to do to attract them. This board is more intensely focused on doing that and building the (traditional mas) brand,” Lucas said.
The NCC is also taking a big risk this year, reconfiguring the traditional North Stand into the North Park.
“A lot of the NCC’s budget is allocated to physical infrastructure. That’s the truth. That’s the facts. You can’t do anything about that. You have to have stands, you have to have tents, you have to have all that. We saved some money in the execution (this year with the North Park) but that was only part of the story,” Lucas said.
The intention, he said, was to create a more user-friendly area that could make money for the NCC and by extension, the people of TT.
“The North Stand was just that, a stand. Look at what it’s starting to look like now – a multi-faceted area where people can do a number of different things,” he said.
There are three sections to the North Park. It also allows for better utilisation of space, he added. The area can hold more people than the Paddock area, and so some fetes are now moving to the North Park instead. For the Panorama semifinals, on February 17, the entrance fee for each varied – $250 for Pan Avenue, $300 for the raised section, and $400 for the Fan Zone. And on Carnival Monday, the inaugural brass bands competition – Brass Bacchanal – will be held there.
Lucas admitted he wanted to get North Park done at least three weeks before it was completed and because of the delay, the NCC had to sacrifice some potential commercial opportunities. But, he said, they’re ready for next year.
“You have to make a first step. We have made a first step. We already know now some of the things we are going to do next year,” Lucas.