This long Carnival weekend, culminating with the Parade of the Bands on Monday and Tuesday, is also the climax of T&T’s tourism season—a too-brief period when there is a surge in visitor arrivals and expenditure.
For a few days, packed flights from across the Caribbean, North America and Europe will bring in returning nationals and foreign visitors to experience “the Greatest Show on Earth.” Hotel occupancy will be close to capacity and many of the pre-Carnival events around the country will be well patronised.
Based on the current sights and sounds, particularly in the vicinity of the Queen’s Park Savannah, the Mecca of Carnival and the main stage for the major competitions over the next four days, it might be tempting to declare this 2024 edition a success.
The truth is, however, that the full potential of T&T Carnival has not yet been realised and tourism continues to be one of this country’s under-performing sectors.
For all of its rich culture and history and its influence over the many West Indian-style carnivals it has spawned around the world, the true value of the festival remains a mystery.
There is not a single heading in the voluminous Budget documents produced annually by the Ministry of Finance that accurately reflects the real revenue and expenditure on T&T Carnival. Not even the National Carnival Commission (NCC), which relies on an allocation from the state to produce its various shows and competitions, can give a true dollar value for the festivities currently taking place.
Very outdated pre-pandemic statistics put the revenue generated during this brief period at US$100,000, with the average Carnival visitor spending an average of $12,101 over approximately 12 days.
So while it is generally acknowledged that Carnival as an industry and economic generator has potential that goes well beyond Carnival Monday and Tuesday, no real effort has yet been made to measure and develop that potential.
Meanwhile, many countries that developed their festivals using aspects of T&T Carnival have made considerably more progress in the branding and marketing of their events and are reaping economic rewards.
The absence of serious studies and gathering of data on our pre-Lenten “farewell to the flesh” celebrations can be blamed on successive governments that have been unwilling, or unable, to wean this nation from its dependence on oil and gas.
As a result, while many of the creative elements of the Carnival have evolved over the years, there continues to be a failure to harness the full value of the festival.
Not only is Carnival season a prime period for tourist arrivals and a significant earner of much-needed foreign exchange, but it also generates economic activity across several sectors that produce a range of cultural products and services.
There is seasonal employment for event coordinators, designers, costume makers, make-up artists, caterers, security personnel, disc jockeys and other service providers, in addition to year-round income potential for those whose expertise is in demand for carnivals in other countries.
More energy thus needs to be focused on making T&T Carnival a premier tourist attraction distinctive from other similar festivals. That means doing studies, gathering comprehensive data, finding ways to boost investments in the sector and working harder and better to improve all aspects of the event.
Developing year-round Carnival attractions and events should also be seriously considered in this, the birthplace of this colourful, high-energy cultural extravaganza.