T&T's Carnival remains the gold standard of Carnivals across the Caribbean but much work needs to be done concerning the events' accessibility to tourists.
For the third year in a row, NCC chairman Winston 'Gypsy' Peters has expressed serious concern that T&T's Carnival was falling behind Jamaica's.
Guardian Media spoke with several individuals who have worked in or participated in Jamaica Carnival, and most disagreed that Jamaica's product was on the level of Trinidad's cultural product.
One American tourist who travelled to various Carnivals across the Caribbean said the only advantage Jamaica had truly was their ease of access to events, accommodation and tourist destinations or their sun, sea and sand package.
Many Carnival stakeholders agreed that this was where T&T fell short.
"Jamaica is a tourism-based industry so across the board, when you deal with the hospitality, in terms of the way the staff treats people, the way the accessibility of transport and even the ability to offer various experience, whether it is to go to Ocho Rios or the beaches or restaurants they have whereas we have Tobago which is another island, it's all on the mainland in Jamaica," said Ryan Alexander, better known as DJ Private Ryan, whose Soca Brainwash events have become a staple across Carnivals around the region.
The price point, Alexander said, also gave Jamaica an advantage.
"Another major factor too is pricing. Trinidad now, because of the demand of Carnival, the prices of flights and hotels are significantly more than to get to Jamaica," he said.
"For some people, Trinidad is just too expensive, so they will go to an alternate experience which gives them the experience in a similar way. So that is why he was able to say that Jamaica is catching up because the reality is Jamaica has grown."
PUT EMPHASIS ON GLOBAL AUDIENCE
The price of our Carnival has also become a concern for the operator of The Carnival Connection, a concierge service which was established ten years ago to facilitate tourists who wish to take part in our festivities.
"There are other elements that contribute to Jamaica 's popularity that being airlift accessibility, air travel and they just have more rooms in general. And the price point is a little bit better. I always tell providers that we are slowly outpricing ourselves out of the competition, and the competition is our own product," she said.
"But we're slowly outpricing ourselves because now we have so many competing events with other islands which are either cheaper or more accessible or have a tourism product attached to it."
That lack of accessibility created her business as she realised that many tourists want to come to Carnival but couldn't register online for some Carnival bands or source tickets for major events.
She said while we have improved somewhat, many tourists remain on the outside looking.
This was a concern Caesar Army's founder and CEO Jules Sobion also felt should be addressed.
"What has happened to many tourists who come into the country, they want to participate in the Carnival activity but a lot of these events get sold out and what happens is a lot of them are put in positions that they can't participate because they don't have any links. So it's either TT's timing and links and if you don't have the links, it puts you in a precarious position," he said, stressing that if we aim to take Carnival internationally some level of planning for the tourism should be made.
"We need to be able to establish the understanding that if your goal is to take it to the world, put an emphasis on your global audience. How can you facilitate them, how can you reach out to them to make sure that they can be part and parcel of what you are trying to provide because ideally, for me, it is important for me to have a global audience being able to reach and be a part of the community and be a part of the event," said Sobion.
However, stakeholders also pointed out the numerous sold-out events and limited hotel rooms or guest room accommodations also speak to the health of our Carnival in terms of popularity.
"The reality is this: demand drives supply, and both of those elements are connected by one thing: marketability. Many of the elements of the Carnival experience—for example, mas costumes and fete tickets—are driven by the high demand to be a part of those experiences," said Jelan Cumberbatch of JC Management Co Ltd, who promotes events in both Trinidad and Jamaica's Carnival.
DJ Private Ryan also noted that Jamaica's Carnival very much remained a niche market at this point, which would reduce complications in terms of demand and supply for events.
"If we are to continue being the model Carnival product that the world continues to gravitate towards as their tourism experience of choice, it's important that we fine-tune our consumer offerings to ensure that our appeal stays ahead of the curve."
'WE ARE UNDERSERVING OUR VISITORS'
Mas designer Solange Govia also disagreed that we were pricing ourselves out of the market. Instead, she argued that T&T was selling itself short in terms of what could be offered.
"I don't think we are outpricing ourselves out of the market, I think we are under servicing our visitors—and that, in turn, is subtracting from the overall value that Trinidad Carnival has the potential to offer international consumers. We have the potential to offer a similar sun, sand and sea experience in Tobago, coupled with an unforgettable Carnival experience in Trinidad, but it all boils down to the way we market ourselves and how we want to be seen on the global stage. "
She suggested that we take a page from our neighbours, much like they had done in establishing their own Carnivals with Trinidad elements, to enhance our product.
"In visiting other islands, there is a high level of customer service that helps to qualify the overall experience for visitors, and that drives retention. When people sense that they are getting value for their hard-earned dollar, that is what makes tourists want to return—and that, no doubt, affects every single industry.
"It's our collective responsibility to look at the bigger picture of how we can make Trinidad Carnival a unique cultural experience that has a place and space for everyone."
Cumberbatch agreed, "If we are to continue being the model Carnival product that the world continues to gravitate towards as their tourism experience of choice, it's important that we fine-tune our consumer offerings to ensure that our appeal stays ahead of the curve."