The earliest signals of the potential for this year's Tobago Jazz Experience were not good. Promotion was undertaken at the last minute with a controversial decision to award a contract of $550,000 to Randy Glasgow Promotions to market the concert series – just a few weeks before it would be staged.
The chairman of the business collaborative Tobago Entrepreneurs, Kristal Manswell, called for transparency in the budgeting for the event. While questions were raised about the tendering process, the larger question remains of how a concert series, intended to appeal to a global audience, proceeded with no marketing until it was too late for anyone but the most dedicated of international jazz enthusiasts to book passage to Tobago. The tardy promotion also calls into question whether there was time for even Trinidad’s music enthusiasts to attend.
Last week, an apparently arbitrary decision to turn the opening event, Thursday's Jazz on the Waterfront, into a free concert, raised even more concerns. Questioned about the decision, Tobago Festivals Commission chairman George Leacock told Newsday that making the $50 event a free concert was something the organisers "just decided" to do. As it turned out, the Thursday concert, featuring local talent, was very well received at the Scarborough Esplanade.
But such arbitrary benevolence demands cross-examination, and the eventual financial performance of this year’s entire concert should be available for public scrutiny. The spending on this year's event is expected to hit $12 million, just a little less than double the budget of the 2018 edition, which cost $7.3 million with ticket sales of $1,668,600.
Watson Duke, speaking as political leader of the Progressive Democratic Patriots, called for a forensic audit into the 2018 event, but his dismissal of the Tobago Festival Commission’s plan to retain economist Dr Ralph Henry to do an economic assessment of the event’s impact over the ten years of its existence is misguided.
The annual jazz event has been an expensive project, and the public is entitled to know just what all that money has bought. The Tobago Jazz Experience is meant to be a loss leader to drive tourism to Tobago, but there has been no satisfactory examination of the actual returns for hoteliers, concessionaires and other services that are expected to benefit from the popular but perennially loss-making event, which features Toni Braxton and Michael Bolton in concert tonight.
Our people love a great party, and the Tobago Jazz Experience has a history of hosting one of the finest, but it must be staged with a plan for real-world returns, both in terms of cash and global promotion of Tobago's attractiveness as a destination.
None of that is clear after ten years.