Carnival is colour! Carnival is mas! But who rakes in the 'big bucks' after the Carnival has passed?
Data from the Central Statistical Office CSO show that in 2017, there were 37,448 visitors to the island specifically for Carnival, together spending $335 million. In 2018 a ten per cent decline was evident in both areas with 33,873 visitors and an expenditure of $319 million.
Estimated National Carnival Commision subventions to 30 events over the period 2016-2019:
2016: $230 million
2017: $168 million
2018: $90 million
2019: $ 140 million
According to the CSO report, NCC chairman Winston “Gypsy” Peters said that the commission was always in the “red” and money it receives from the Government is used to pay outstanding bills from the previous year. This year NCC owes over $40 million to contractors and suppliers, among other stakeholders.
In last Wednesday's CNC3 Business Watch hosted by Judy Kanhai, Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts Nyan Gadsby-Dolly and Peters broke it down to dollars and cents and sought to explain the “economics” of T&T Carnival.
The Sunday Guardian recaps the conversation in Q&A style.
Do you have an idea of the economic impact of Carnival?
In 2016 we did an economic impact assessment of Carnival. One was ordered last year as well, which came through the EDAB (Economic Development Advisory Board), but we have not got the results as yet of that one. But in 2016 when we looked at it, the figure was just about $373 million generated from Carnival and we have ordered one for this year and we expect to see what are the flows for 2019.
Has there been a decline in that figure post-2016?
The figure is linked really to the tourism number that comes in for Carnival, that two-week period that we measure around Carnival and the spend per year. If there is less in any one year, then you would expect that figure would go down a bit. But as it is, it is very approximate to that figure and it all depends on how tourism fluctuates.
In 2018, there was a decline in the number of visitors to the island to participate specifically in Carnival. Would you have an idea of what led to that decline? And what are your suggestions on increasing our Carnival arrivals?
I think from inception Carnival in T&T is something that we (locals) enjoy…it's for us. And that, I think, distinguishes our Carnival from some of the others, which may have come about through actual planning for a tourism event. For example, our Carnival is managed through the Ministry of Culture. In the region, Carnivals which may have arisen because of their need for attracting tourists, they are managed by their Ministry of Tourism which has a big say and makes a big distinction on how our Carnival in comparison is managed. One of the things we have to look at is the rise in other Carnivals (regional and international) and the fact they are being marketed very heavily. In T&T we can't say that we have been marketing our Carnival to its fullest potential over the years, and therefore, any decrease we may be able to attribute it to the fact. We need to market our Carnival more aggressively to be able to bring more people if we want to maintain our market share.
If this is recognised to be the shortfall, then why have we not been marketing our Carnival aggressively?
Again, because our Carnival has been for us...our Carnival arose out of our rebellion…our experience. And what we have done with our Carnival, all through the years, is something that we enjoy. For example, when we have our J'Ouvert, the parade of the band or so, it's not done with the audience in mind. Carnival is a street party that people enjoy and it is becoming more and more so. If we have to market a “product” for Carnival, this is where we need a lot more intervention by Ministry of Tourism and Tourism Trinidad and we have been having a lot of these discussions, because what we would have to do is to create a product around the target audience we would like to attract. We have not had that kind of consideration in any major way over the years, it's been all about what T&T enjoys for Carnival.
Should we open our own mas factories instead of outsourcing?
Certainly, these are the business of the area people can look at, determine where are the niche markets, what they can do, do their business models and get into the business, most certainly it is possible.
Would the Government accommodate this in regards to support?
When we look at Carnival and what our model of Carnival is, we ask, is it an economic enterprise? It is not, and has never been and when we think about if everything we had to do has to make economic sense then our Carnival would look very much different from what it looks like right now. The discussion would arise then, about if we are really changing the culture or just changing everything to make money. So in terms of Government stepping in to make a factory so that Carnival costumes can be made, that is not something, that has been in consideration, and just looking at it from the onset, I can see a lot of problems with that model being continued. What I can see though, is that it is a good opportunity for those involved in mas to look at, do some costings and maybe come to the Government to discuss how they can be facilitated and supported.
Changing the face of Carnival
Speaking to the need to change the face of Carnival, Peters endorsed Gadsby-Dolly's views and added, “We have given the world Carnival but we have not brought the world to our Carnival. And because of that, we have to now do more international advertising, we have to now take pattern from some of the Carnivals we have spawned in the world and use it as a business, as a deliberate product to bring people to T&T.”
Have our Carnival events become routinely redundant?
No, not at all, in fact, far from it. We have been putting on a great show of different variety. Our Carnival is the only Carnival in the world with a portrayal Carnival and we play mas all over T&T. When you come to our Carnival you can go to Princes town and find a different mas from San Fernando, and you can go to San Fernando and find a different mas from Sangre Grande or you may go to Mayaro and find a different mas, and so no.
The revenue currently generated from Carnival, can we do better?
Yes, I do...but as I said before, if you have a product and it's not sold, you can have the best product in the world and you're not selling it, then it is just your product and that's all it is.
How much money has NCC received in 2019 from government subvention?
The allocation this year is approximately $139 million. But so far, in terms of “drawdown”, it was 25, 27, and 38.
In light of your previous comment that the NCC survives “pay cheque to pay cheque”, why hasn't the NCC tried to be more self-sufficient rather than rely heavily on government subvention?
The NCC has to rely on the government subvention because Carnival is a government sub-vented type of event. How the Government gets back its revenue from Carnival is through visitors. We spend TT money, which is $7 or $8 dollars to US$1, so if we are spending a million dollars, it means all we are spending really is a hundred and something thousand US dollars. It's not that the Government is going to get it back instantly when they give the NCC the subvention. The Government doesn't only rely on tangibles for money but intangibles as well.
Of the 30 plus events NCC sub vents, which are profitable?
None have been profitable really. It is just like the Government putting on one big fete that the Government and the people of T&T pay for. However, Carnival spawns the most amounts of instant jobs, that you can find in this country.
But what's the point in spending millions and getting no return? Shouldn't this change?
Yes, it should, and this is what we are now aspiring to do. And that's why you see so many changes taking place. The NCC is putting on more things and is investing in some of the profitable or not so profitable events that we have, trying to make these profitable so that we can help to try and make back some of the money.
It's one of our most extravagant social programmes funded by taxpayers—economist
Economist Indera Sagewan-Alli tells the Sunday Guardian, “There is no deliberate business of Carnival.” She said any business that happens as a result of Carnival is “peripheral and simply consequential of the national 'party' that is carnival”.
“In my view, it is one of our most extravagant social programmes funded by and largesse of taxpayers. I say that because even though year after year the questions are asked, “how much did we really spend on Carnival or what was the investment on the returns”? And the answers are never forthcoming and we continue to not put anything in place to ensure mechanisms are in place to answer these questions,” Sagewan-Alli said.
The failure to do so, she believes, shows there is no burning desire to make Carnival a business.
She added that if Carnival were a business, we would dissect the Carnival product into those that must be profit generating and self-sustaining and those which for social and cultural reasons, we would wish to perpetuate and as a consequence, we are prepared to subsidise. In so doing, we would then go about developing the combination of a Carnival product based on this type of model.
“There appears to be no aspect of where the State or the taxpayers' money go in Carnival. Because year after year it (Carnival, all aspects), goes back to the Treasury for its funding.”