It’s the middle of January, and there are officially six weeks until Carnival.
In a typical Carnival season, many people would have already attended their first fete or possibly two or three.
This year however, the various promoters and Carnival bands have been using their social media pages to reminisce on years past as the future continues to be uncertain for such events.
Despite reaffirmation by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on Saturday that there would be a scaled down version of our Carnival with safe zone events, many event promoters are looking at the shrinking window with dwindling hope and even less expectation that anything can happen. For as time goes on, they are faced with increasing challenges of the potential costs of hosting events with a high possibility of loosing money.
Andros Belfonte of Ticket Federation, a website which has become famous for its Fete Calendar, confirmed that they have been on standby for event announcements. He explained that promoters are aware they may not have huge or even successful events, but in some cases are simply pushing for something to happen, simply to keep the brand of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival afloat in some way.
“They are really trying to get something happening, just to maintain a presence,” said Belfonte, who also explained that currently the odds were stacked against them, in particular the small event promoters who did not have the financial resources to attempt to put together events in such a short period. Especially one with additional costs required for safe zone protocols and reduced patronage due to restrictions.
Paige De Leon of the T&T Promoters Association confirmed the long wait has created great uncertainty as to what can happen, despite the association pushing discussions for several months with the government about potential events .
“The 50% capacity suggestion that currently exists “for safe zones” that challenges the economic imperative for any promoter and most likely would not be something that would work well for us at this time. So that’s again something that we will have to look at. And these are the reasons why no decisions can be taken. Because we don’t have any parameters. We don’t have any guidelines as to how this could possibly take place. And the time is very, very short in the context of our traditional carnival period,”she said, adding that difficulties along the supply chain could also further increase the price of hosting events during this time.
“Until we have some word about what those guidelines and what those parameters look like, we’re not in a position to make any plans. We have simply been waiting for many, many months, having submitted significant and robust proposals, well thought out ones. We negotiated various things and we submitted those proposals and we’re waiting to find out what if anything, the guidelines will be and until we know that, you know, we’re not in the game,” she said.
But even if word comes this weekend, De Leon admitted that the promoters faced an uphill task given the multiple logistics they would have to navigate to have events during a pandemic. The safe zone event, she acknowledged differs greatly in logistics, and expenses, compared to the typical fete or Carnival event.
“People who have to supply us with the raw materials and the services that are needed to have an event. People have to build stages. People have to create costumes people have to, you know, prepare their performances and all sorts of different things have to happen in order for an event to take place and events. An event certainly that is of any quality,”
There is also uncertainty as to what audience would come out, if they come out at all given the pandemic.
This meant that promoters could put out all of these expenses and still stand to lose due to poor attendance.
This an growing risk given that, already with safe zone excluding basically 50 per cent of the population due the country’s vaccination number and the potential exclusion of tourist and foreign based nationals from Carnival events.
De Leon explained the delayed announcement greatly restricted their potential involvement as they too would have to plan to get to Trinidad and Tobago for these events, which with every passing day becomes more difficult.
“People who do not reside in Trinidad and Tobago have traditionally been one of the main supporters of Carnival. In other words, people coming into the country would need to know in advance if there’s going to be something and if they want to jump on a plane and come where would they stay?” she said.
“If there aren’t patrons, then the event is not going to happen. So the question is, do we have time? Are people still hopeful that something will happen? So many people are kind of waiting, but not everyone is able to press that button at a moment’s notice, both in terms of promoters and in terms of the clients,” she said.
The absence, up to now, of virtual events and scaled down, seating only concerts which were held to fill the void last year was also partially attributed to the lack of confirmation but also due to similar concerns about return on investment.
Both Belfonte and De Leon told the Business Guardian that those events often fell short in achieving the returns expected for both promoter and patron.
“Perhaps it is because economically it does not necessarily make a lot of sense. It doesn’t make a lot of sense and Carnival is what Carnival is, if we are really talking about Carnival. You know, if we’re only talking about carnival, only talking about Soca events, then that, you know, presents obvious challenges in terms of having people sit on a chair and look at a performance that is not traditionally how we consume our culture,” said De Leon.
But there is also the health concern that looms large, so much so that some promoters are in favour of pushing back events to later in the year.
Randy Glasgow is one of the promoters in favour of such a decision, as he argued that attempting to put together anything at this time was too risky both in terms of safety and also in terms of branding.
“ A lot of time has elapsed so we are of the firm view that if we are having some events to replicate Carnival it should move from February and put to August where our country could better prepare in a pandemic for such events. Presently, we feel our country don’t have the necessary health infrastructure and capacity to deal with you know upsurge as a consequence of events that may happen in February, “ he said, adding that promoters also ran the risk of being labelled as selfish for pushing for events at this time.
Glasgow said the NCC’s initials plans also gave little indication as to how finances for these events would be distributed.
His worry was that given the additional financial costs incurred to have these events in safe zones, promoters would be forced to cut costs which likely would lead to artistes being dropped from the events.
“Our artists and creatives have not earned a dollar, most of them, probably 85% of them have not earned a dollar in almost two years. If you have those rush events as I put it in February, nobody could say how many artistes would get gigs in these event you’re planning,” he said
Glasgow also expressed the concern that having safe zone events could also prompt the un-vaccinated to attempt to have their own unsanctioned events which could further clog our health care institutions.
“You have to think for the whole nation. They’re searching for people who think for the whole nation. If it’s not good for the whole nation, you know, don’t force around people. Give ourselves more time. And let’s target August/September and have some good events with a plan that could be also be used as a marketing tool. For the big return of Trinidad’s Carnival, God willing in 2023,” he said.