We can harness the frenetic energy from the gyrating bodies and booming sounds of Carnival to power our economic turbines.
Away from the sounds and stages, revellers must be fed and watered to a finely inebriated state. They must be smartly dressed (or undressed). Cars and buses must whisk them to and from their accommodation. The tent builders must have their day, as must the sound engineers and event managers.
Carnival already brings in upwards of US$100 million a year in tourism dollars alone, reckons the National Carnival Commission (NCC). It is a perfect example of what economists call a cluster, where different businesses spring up to offer the consumer a “whole product solution.”
But Carnival has far from reached its full potential.
Partygoers are fickle and data almost non-existent, not attributes that bankers relish. There are few other industries where rain can literally wash away an investment. Almost all ventures are boot-strapped, or angel funded.
The industry is fragmented, risky and ad-hoc. Aside from one or two major players (think Dean Ackin’s Tribe group), many Carnival-related businesses operate with little commercial rigour. Suppliers and investors are often forced to tolerate behaviour that would never fly in the energy sector.
Even if tourists are lucky enough to find reasonably-priced accommodation, the experience is often a maze for those who’ve not grown up navigating the local party scene (it is always amazing the sheer amount of innate talent we have for logistics when it comes to having serious fun).
We are leaving money and market share on the table. Rio generates more than US$1 billion in tourism dollars from its six million participants each year and does a great job of attracting them to see the rest of the country.
Tourists faced with options from Rio to New Orleans don’t want to think. As marketing consultant David McCartney told me, a simple way for the bands and airlines to maximise visitors is to market turn-key packages including flights, accommodation, food, fete tickets and costumes.
Accommodation can and should be cheaper and easier to find. We can invite Airbnb to feature TT as a destination and give property owners tips on how to quickly spruce their spaces up as Carnival-ready listings. This will reduce the costs of Carnival, still very high relative to the competition.
Then we can move to leverage visits during the cruise season. Can we partner with cruise lines to throw events for passengers? “Come back for Carnival!” As it is, I always feel sorry for the lost-looking tourists in the less picturesque areas of town.
At the same time, we must use Carnival as a honeytrap to capture tourists who will return to our islands year on year; and not just for the party. The Government can work together with hoteliers and tours guides to promote post-Carnival events; with waterfalls, beaches, hummingbirds and chocolates to recover from Carnival.
Once we start by generating demand, then the quality of supply will improve, and our creativity will be unleashed. Simple commercial demand can drive more inventiveness: just look at Tribe’s Lost Tribe offering, which responded to demand from people looking for more authenticity and craft from their Carnival experience.
TT is lucky enough to have that most precious of brand traits: “authentic” (as anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of a tantie’s blunt remarks can attest to). This is our springboard for international expansion.
The NCC estimates more than 180 carnivals worldwide related to TT, almost all of which are created by our diaspora. We can use these pockets of TT Carnival spots as bases to drum up visitors attracted by a festival event and looking for new experiences.
The diversity of Carnival’s origins makes it easily adaptable to different markets and traditions. This makes the tradition perfect fit from Burning Man to Coachella. Outside of the diaspora, untapped markets like Nigeria or South Africa share a direct cultural connection and festival traditions.
Old traditions can thus be revived to fit new markets and generate foreign exchange, as entrepreneurs are already capitalising on. Fashion designer Anya Ayoung-Chee has spotted this, launching a line of festival-geared clothing in New York.
This is where the Government can help, targeting hip cities like Berlin or Los Angeles. The role of the Government is to pro-actively engage industry to make connections that individual bands or companies couldn’t do on their own- and to ease local companies’ entries into new markets. Which ministry official wouldn’t want that job?
Let the revelry begin.
Kiran Mathur Mohammed is a social entrepreneur, economist and businessman. He is a former banker, and a graduate of the University of Edinburgh