Yesterday’s T&T Guardian lead story which highlighted that the high cost of airfare and accommodation has discouraged some visitors from participating in Trinidad’s 2024 Carnival, is a charge that all stakeholders in one of this country’s premier tourist attractions must take very seriously.
“I think we are outpricing ourselves. I think we are making our Carnival the most expensive one to attend, so we need to be careful about that,” said bandleader Ronnie McIntosh, as he bluntly and succinctly outlined the problem.
Tanya Gomes, the co-director of Yuma, one of Trinidad’s largest mas bands, added, “Our Carnival is certainly very expensive when it comes to accommodation, flights and transportation.”
The Central Statistical Office (CSO) estimates that 27,375 people visited T&T to participate in the festivities in 2023. It is estimated that they spent a total of $419.19 million (US$61.64 million).
While that money pales in comparison to the revenues generated from the sale of T&T’s natural gas, oil and petrochemicals, much of the Carnival spend goes directly into the hands of the taxi drivers, vendors of all kinds of products, as well as the organisers of the all-inclusive events, Carnival bands, hotels, guest houses and other types of accommodation facilities.
The CSO also does an annual survey of departing passengers starting on Ash Wednesday, to gauge the expenditure of Carnival visitors and the length of time they stayed.
The 2023 survey received responses from a total of 2,350 visitors, who disclosed that they spent a total of $35.98 million (US$5.29 million) over an average length of stay of 13 days with average expenditure over that period of $15,313 (US$2,251).
Of the $35.98 million spent by the respondents to the 2023 Carnival visitor expenditure survey, the CSO estimates that about 50 per cent was spent on ‘entertainment’ and 30 per cent on accommodation and meals.
T&T Carnival provides economic benefits to individuals and companies throughout the length and breadth of this country.
Fewer Carnival visitors, comprising both tourists and returning nationals, means a reduction in the economic benefits and less foreign exchange being earned during the pre-Lenten festival, at a time when the demand for foreign exchange has outstripped its supply for more than ten years.
The private sector in T&T, in collaboration with the Government, should be pushing the festival tourism envelope as hard as possible to generate more foreign exchange. This is something that T&T can learn from our Caribbean neighbours, who have rum and food festivals, music festivals, as well as their annual carnival events - with even Jamaica making a serious push with their own festival, though relatively new to the international tourism calendar.
Given the proximity to the 2024 Carnival, it may be too late to address the issues raised by the bandleaders that high airfares have reduced the number of visitors this year.
But this is an issue that requires serious ventilation by the Carnival stakeholders when they sit to do their post mortems of the festival after Ash Wednesday.
Tribe’s brand manager Rhiannon Pemberton suggested on Tuesday that bandleaders were “very open” to discussions with other stakeholders to make Carnival more affordable.
This suggests that the bandleaders have not held post-Carnival discussions with the airlines, a point emphasised by McIntosh.
For the good of T&T’s Carnival, and its revenue-generating possibilities, this apparent fractionalism between and among the festival’s stakeholders must end immediately.