The Tobago Jazz Experience needs reform, as the event has now moved away from being one of the island’s most prestigious event and become a “fete,” according to minority leader of Tobago House of Assembly Watson Duke.
Duke was commenting on the $2.5 million spent to secure international artiste Michael Bolton and Toni Braxton for the World Music Night at Pigeon Point Heritage Park, April 28 according to Minister of Tourism Randall Mitchell two weeks ago as he was responding to a question in Parliament.
The festival, which ran from April 25-28, welcomed 11, 130 visitors, Mitchell said adding that Jazz on the Water front at the Scarborough Esplanade cost $174,410 and patrons enjoyed performances from around 30 local artistes over the three-night event.
The Tobago Festivals Commission, under the THA, secured Braxton and Bolton at US$375,000 or approximately $2,550,000, which included travel, shipping, ground transportation and accommodation. Braxton was accompanied by 20 band members at a cost of US$225,000 and Bolton was accompanied by 15 band members and was contracted at a cost of US$150,000. Each international artiste performed for an hour.
Speaking to Newsday on Monday, Duke said the jazz festival, over the years, could be seen as a bad investment by the THA.
“Jazz as a party was successful, jazz as an investment was poor. It was so poor it cost much more to run jazz than it made. For another year the event has failed to make a profit.
“Tobago is failing because we have an administration who is bent on throwing big parties, but are those things economically viable? Is there a trickle-down effect for the man on the street? They are pleasuring themselves, which can be akin to political masturbation.”
He said Tobagonians would have benefited if the $12 million budgeted for this years’ event had been allocated to pay outstanding gratuities or improving health care. He also called on the THA to make the 2018 jazz review public.
Duke recommended an efficient air- and seabridge, coupled with hotel rooms to reflect international standards, and a serious review of the festival as the technique to revive the jazz experience.
Duke was not the only stakeholder who told Newsday the quality of the event must improve. Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce interim chairman Martin George said money is being wasted yearly.
He said the festival has not made a profit and Tobago must now look at ways to improve the quality of the show.
“We keep insisting that we have a fresh look at this product, because it is not been delivering in terms of profitability or in terms of sustainability. It is not delivering in terms of advance planning and event management. Therefore you ask yourself, is it really an annual fete? In this case we don’t have to be spending that kind of money on it.”
He said the event, when handed over to the Tobago House of Assembly from the private sector, when it was known as the Plymouth Jazz Festival, was profitable.
“It was well marketed, well planned: they would plan for the event more than a year in advance. You would always know who were the artistes, they will make proper arrangements and it was such a high level and high-quality event that persons flew from all around the globe for the festival.”
George said because the event has been mismanaged and its quality degraded, immediate reform is needed to restore what is now one of the island’s signature tourism festivals.
“The event has been mangled, bungled and fumbled into oblivion, to the point where it’s just a lime for Trinidadians coming over to Tobago and for Tobagonians who may have gotten free tickets to the event. It really has not lived up to the previous expectation, and I think we need to do a retooling at the entire event. We need to look at the management of it, we need to question the Tobago Festivals Commission as to how they are accounting for this public expenditure and the way they have approached it in a last-minute, slapdash, knee-jerk reaction, which is not a way you plan for an international concert event.”
Chris James, present of the Tobago Tourism and hotel Association, in April, said the occupancy rate remained the same as 2018. For jazz he reported 46 per cent occupancy, with the last night – the Sunday – being the busiest.
Newsday also spoke to a number of guesthouses, inns and hotels owners who reported low occupancy.
THA head Kelvin Charles denied these claim during a weekly briefing, saying major hotels and guesthouses reported between 60 and 100 per cent occupancy during the festival.
Weeks after the event, chairman of the Tobago Festivals Commission George Leacock said Jazz 2019, from a musical and economical standpoint, was a tremendous success andd that at Pigeon Point the returns were better by one third.
Data on the 2019 festival is expected to be released soon.