The cancellation of Carnival 2021 by the Government has accelerated talks about Tobago hosting its own Carnival celebrations.
For many years there have been mere conversations about the topic, but nothing has materialised.
The discussions continued on Thursday, as marketing and events co-ordinator Kevon McKenna, who was hired by the Tobago Festivals Commission Ltd (TFCL) as a consultant, hosted a second virtual stakeholders’ conversation to discuss the issue.
Although the world is still going through the covid19 pandemic, stakeholders are hopeful a proposal can be made for 2022.
Tobago Festivals chairman Dr Denise Tsoiafatt-Angus said she welcomed all the ideas but was adamant that the final product must be uniquely Tobagonian.
She is looking forward to the collaborative team “coming up with something that is Tobago, not just something that is a replica of any other country or any other island, but something that is authentically Tobago."
McKenna is expected to play a critical role in this.
He told Newsday, “When I returned from my studies in Trinidad, having completed my master's in Arts in Carnival Studies at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, I would have presented a proposal to the Festivals Commission board and a number of stakeholders. Based on that, recommendations were made, and I was brought on as a consultant to basically meet with the various stakeholders and frame out how a new Tobago Carnival would look.”
A wide cross section of stakeholders, he said, will be engaged to ensure the delivery of a thoroughly researched and well-developed Tobago product, in keeping with the island’s best interest.
He said the overall aim is to design a sustainable tourism product that would not only generate revenue for the island, but also secure a place for Tobago’s Carnival as a must-attend for festival enthusiasts.
McKenna said he was encouraged as there has been “very good feedback from the stakeholders – the energy is building.”
He gave an insight into what was discussed.
“For the national Carnival, what is suggested is that we concentrate on children and extend the children's events, which would give us time to treat with and educate and train the children, and it allows the economic benefits for mas leaders to make more.
"By moving the adult Carnival to October, it would allow for the expansion and also to raise a new tourism product for the island of Tobago. October in Tobago is also a low period for tourists, so putting the Carnival during that period would really help the tourism, but more so the hotel sector.”
He said there are also suggestions to have the route, judging points and parking spaces adjusted.
Addressing the virtual audience, Tsoiafatt-Angus said a Carnival experience in Tobago, if planned well, can become a driver of the economy and the island’s social infrastructure.
Angus said for many years the idea of Tobago having its own Carnival has been “bounced around, back and forth,” as she implored the stakeholders logged on to take the exercise very seriously.
She said, “I know many of you are very passionate about Carnival on a whole. What we want to have happen is not just to be passionate about it, but to see how could we maximise its contribution to the Tobago economy. We all talk about diversifying the economy and that Tobago has to find more ways to stand on its own; from all of the research that has been done in the past, this product is one that can have the potential to do that for us.”
She said the conversation will remain active for the next six months “until we have a plan in hand.”
During his tenure as minister of arts and multiculturalism in the former People's Partnership administration, Winston “Gypsy” Peters raised the issue of a Tobago Carnival.
In 2019, Peters, now chairman of the National Carnival Commission, said he still believed a Tobago Carnival must be established as a permanent feature of the island's cultural identity.
Peters said a Tobago Carnival, in October, could surpass its Trinidad equivalent in terms of profitability, since Tobago is losing out big in having its Carnival simultaneously as Trinidad's.