After a notable absence from the public, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley finally addressed the issues headlining national discourse over the past few weeks.
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The high cost of calling off Carnival
The last time Carnival was cancelled for security reasons was during World War II. Taking the same action now, even with a high murder toll and increasing concerns about safety, could cost the country millions of dollars, economist Indera Sagewan-Alli warned.
“The losses would run into the hundreds of millions, if not billions. Remember Carnival in Trinidad is a fixed event in the country’s calendar of events, preparation and so expenditure for Carnival of the next year starts immediately upon the completion of this year’s event. “There are some stakeholders, for example mas bands, whose total annual revenue is generated at this time. Can they withstand such a loss and have the capacity to prepare adequately for another year?” she asked.
Sagewan-Alli said Carnival season in T&T was like Christmas for the retail sector in other countries.
“There will be the lost to the foreign participants who have already made travel arrangements, loss to the airline industry, the loss of ticket sales and the additional resources they must have already expended to ensure that there are sufficient seats to meet this peak demand. Loss of revenue to taxi drivers, vendors, hotels, guest houses, fete promoters. The resources already expended by mass bands in preparation, the National Carnival Commission (NCC),” she said.
She added that cancelling Carnival would be sending a bad signal to the international community about the state of crime in T&T. “Firstly, to do so would be admitting that crime has in fact gone rogue and that the state and the security forces are unable to manage and control it. This can in fact worsen the situation. This message sent to the rest of the world would have negative implications for the regular tourism inflow and for investments.”
Calling off Carnival is not an option, the economist said. Instead, Government needs to rein in crime to ensure that economic activity is not stifled. “Government needs instead to ensure that this scourge of crime is brought under control so that the normal economic activities of the country, in this case Carnival, can be hosted uninterrupted,” Sagewan-Alli said.
Digicel concerned about crime
Penny Gomez, communications manager at Digicel, said it would be unfortunate if Carnival could not take place because of high crime. “A ban on Carnival would be an unfortunate, especially for those who earn their livelihood from Carnival and the thousands—locals and visitors alike—who eagerly look forward to the festival each year.” Gomez said Digicel has invested deeply in culture since it entered the T&T market seven years ago.
“The cultural significance of Carnival has been one of the main factors for our support of the festival, support which is aligned to every aspect of Carnival—the music, the parties and the mas,” she said, even as she expressed concern about the negative effect of crime on society. “Like everyone else, we at Digicel are very concerned about the hike in crime and the damaging ripple effect it has on our society. Digicel, as a law-abiding citizen, will adhere to any changes in procedures as passed by Government in this regard,” Gomez said.
Louanna Chai-Alves, executive director of the Trinidad Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Association, said T&T needs to better manage its image and promote “brand T&T” in a more professional way. “Crime has the potential to be a threat to buyers of our product. It is important that we go out there and say that T&T is a safe destination so that people will not only be hearing negative thing,” she said.
Bhai-Alves said T&T needs to market itself because few people know about the country as much as they know about Barbados or Jamaica. “We have an incredible product but we need better product development. Throughout the Caribbean arrivals are increasing and so are the revenue generated from it. However, T&T’s rates are less that the rest of the region. It is unfortunate that out political directorate cannot see that. 30,000 people in T&T are employed by this sector and they need to see that,” she said.
She said the hotel occupancy rates, based on recent statistics, are high but people are staying for shorter periods than in past years. “In past years the occupancy started peaking from the Wednesday before Carnival but this year it is from Carnival Friday. Our data is showing it is a shorter stay and this impacts on revenues,” Chai-Alves said.
There are a number of reasons for this, but the main one may be economic. It is likely that because of the international economy and changing world that people are not travelling as much as they used to,” she said. Carol Birchwood-James, vice president, Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association said calling off T&T’s Carnival would be the death of the local tourism industry.
“There are many challenges we face but they are not insurmountable. We cannot do that. We have no other choice but to bring the rate of crime down, not only for the tourists, but for locals as well,” she said.