COVID-19 has already led to the cancellation carnival events for 2020 all over the world, and T&T’s leading mas and event practitioners have contended that if Carnival 2021 is cancelled, the impact would be huge and devastating on the country’s economy.
In an interview with the Sunday Business Guardian (SBG) leader of the Tribe Group Dean Ackin said: “The cancellation of Carnival will have a very big impact on the country as Carnival provides employment for thousands of people in various types of businesses.”
According to Ackin, Carnival bands provide direct employment to dozens of production workers, costume makers, costume designers, bartenders, truck drivers, food workers, DJs , musicians, sound and lighting companies, graphic artistes and photographers etc.
Ackin highlighted that Carnival’s eco-system would be disrupted as well, as the festival provides indirect earnings to complimentary services like airlines, hotels, guests houses, taxi drivers, food vendors, beauty services, tour operators, security services, signage printers and more.
Also speaking to the SBG was bandleader of Kalicharan’s Carnival, Aaron Kalicharan who commented on the impact of Carnival’s possible cancellation: “We are not just thinking about bikini and beads and feathers.”
According to Kalicharan, cash flows to many other businesses like hardwares would also be adversely touched by Carnival’s cancellation. Kalicharan articulated: “A lot of people don’t know, the hardwares make so much of cash turnover from Carnival.” This is because plyboard, wires and glue are major sellers during that season.
Data from a collaborative study done by the Central Bank and the Central Statistical Office (CSO) indicated that Carnival accounted for 42.5 per cent of the country’s tourism expenditure for 2019.
Using information from the Caribbean Tourism Organisation on tourist arrivals for 2019 (479,999) and information on the average daily expenditure for tourists in T&T ($670), it can be estimated that $322million was spent in T&T for 2019.
Therefore, with Carnival accounting for 42.5 per cent of the aforementioned figure, it means that the expenditure for Carnival alone was $136.85 million for 2019.
Ackin said that while Carnival is a seasonal industry, many people depend on its seasonal income to provide for the entire year. He argued: “Whereas the bigger players may be able to rally through the year without income, there are many small companies and individuals who will suffer financially if Carnival needed to be cancelled because of COVID-19.”
According to Ackin, a postponement rather than a cancellation would be a better option. He highlighted the fact that any company or person without income for a year would find it difficult to survive, as no income means the businesses will not be able to pay their staff and other operating expenses.
“This will lead to layoffs and the closing of businesses who are unable to withstand the hard times ahead,” said Ackin. He admitted that the entertainment industry along with tourism and hospitality are the hardest being hit by this pandemic.
However, more immediate losses were experienced by some band leaders as they would have had to cancel foreign events. Ackin indicated that his company had to cancel its “Ignite Jamaica” event and his team is still looking on to see what will be become of events planned for New York, London and Miami.
Ackin added: “Local events that will be affected are Jamin Summer which we hold in June, and our signature Band Launch, “Festival of the Bands” in July.”
Meanwhile, commander-in-chief of Caesar’s Army Jules Sobion said: “For the time being I have cancelled five events.”
Sobion indicated that Caesar’s Army had two scheduled events for Jamaica’s Carnival, one event in New York that was due in June and another in St Lucia because its carnival got cancelled.
The other event is Sobion’s Independence Day event, which has not been outright cancelled but still tentative as Caesar’s Army monitors the decisions of the government.
The loss of opportunities to engineer foreign events have hurt the revenues of event specialists. Sobion indicated that his events outside of T&T Carnival contribute to 50 per cent of his company’s revenue.
However, he remains optimistic as he remarked: “It (revenue) has not been lost - but it has just been removed.” Sobion argued that during this time companies should prepare for the worst, expect the best and adapt to what the changing environment brings.
In travelling from event to event, Sobion indicated that COVID-19’s destabilising force has given him the time to think and evaluate his company. He noted that Caesar’s Army is based on event production, event marketing and digital media and has to now reinvent itself by exploring other services that can be provided from a virtual standpoint.
Sobion also articulated that the government’s re-evaluation of revenue earning industries outside of oil and gas plays a pivotal role in the midst of COVID-19. He noted that the nascent industries should be considered as the rebuilding process begins post COVID-19.
The three businessmen noted that their plans for T&T Carnival 2021 have been disrupted as Tribe planned since 2019 and Kalicharan’s planning process would normally begin in April for the following year.
The National Carnival Commission (NCC) will announce by August if Carnival 2021 would be moving forward based on the directive of the government. When asked if an August announcement would give the leaders enough to prepare—Ackin, Sobion and Kalicharan all noted, yes.
Ackin said that after September 1, the lead time to get certain things done becomes a bit slim and full scale production becomes harder, albeit not impossible. He noted that the group has always done as much production as it could in Trinidad, but given the current situation and logistical constraints posed by the coronavirus, it may mean ordering materials earlier, and doing more in Trinidad once the capacity is available.
He indicated that ordering and planning “with the COVID factor” is extremely difficult because of the huge uncertainty attached. He likened it to trying to hit a moving target.
Although Kalicharan said that he normally gets supplies from New York and China, he can migrate to doing everything in T&T as the scale of his operations are manageable and it was done before.
The bandleaders remarked that above all, the health and safety of all citizens, patrons and masquerades are pre-eminent and they await the instructions from the government and global health bodies.
According to Ackin, “the silver lining in all this for the local and regional entertainment industry is that once a Vaccine becomes available and people feel safe again, Caribbean people will bounce back faster than the rest of the world.”
He continued: “We are social people by nature and will be in a fête and on the road in a heartbeat!”