Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The greatest show on Earth!(?)


—Photo: Jermaine Cruickshank

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The festivities are now over, but there is no denying it.

Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival is truly the "Greatest Show on Earth"...for Trinidadians.

As born and bred "Trinis" we fiercely defend the title and why wouldn't we?

In the lead-up to Carnival Monday and Tuesday Trinidad and Tobago is transformed into a hedonistic paradise where inhibitions are thrown to the wind and nothing is spared – including the expense.

From pricey all inclusive affairs, to traditional Carnival activities such as the parade of the bands, the country experiences a significant spike in economic activity during the Carnival period, perhaps more than at any other time of year.

In one study, it was estimated that in 2008 the Carnival Industry generated some $93,000,000, roughly US$15,000,000 in the two-week period of activities that culminate in the "Big Show", on Carnival Monday and Tuesday.

These figures have been largely attributed to daily spending by tourists on the island and do not account for other linkage or downstream revenue activities such as accommodation, vehicle rental and taxes for the period.

Carnival therefore represents a largely untapped vein of economic opportunity for the country.

In a United Nations report entitled "Creative Economy: A Feasible Development Option" the creative industries are described as being among "the most dynamic sectors of the world economy", offering "new, high growth opportunities for

developing countries".

According to this report, despite a 12 per cent decline in global trade during the financial crisis of 2008, "the world trade in creative goods and services continued its expansion, reaching $592 billion and reflecting an annual growth rate of 14 per cent during the period 2002-2008".

These cultural or creative industries, of which the Carnival Industry is part and parcel, include the economic activities of artistes, arts enterprises and cultural entrepreneurs, for-profit as well as not-for-profit, in the production, distribution and consumption of film, television, literature, music, theatre, dance, visual arts, masquerade, broadcasting, and animation. With the many festivals and traditions resident in Trinidad and Tobago, we are strategically positioned to take advantage of the opportunities for sustainable economic development which the burgeoning global creative economy has to offer. Masquerade costuming and design production are key features of the branding of the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival industry as a whole. Thus, design capital and sound business strategy are critical to the future development of the sector and its competitiveness. The focus therefore must be trained on increasing the local value added in "mas"/costume production and exports and facilitating trade in design services and intellectual property.

While the country enjoys some measure of comparative advantage in the production of cultural industries and opportunities for the commercialisation of the arts there are recognised vulnerabilities that threaten the very sustainability of the industry. Of critical import is the diminishing value – added content in the sector, and the seeming incursion of foreign imports into the industry. These, it is argued, may have the effect of diminishing the cultural patrimony of the festival, and in so doing negatives the opportunities for niche branding of the Carnival product in international markets. This phenomenon of "internal leakage of value added" is often attributed to sparse factor endowment or inadequate quality of goods and services.

Younger, less traditional, business savvy titans of the Masquerade community in Trinidad and Tobago have argued that the importation of costumes from China and India has become necessary to be able to meet the industry's growing demands and to acquire the highest quality and ultimately increased competitiveness within the context of the international Carnival industry. Without proper accounting measures however it is difficult to refute or justify the welfare gains of costume importation on the development of the sector. Lack of sufficient data poses a significant challenge in attempts to turn Carnival into a profitable and exportable industry while protecting the cultural patrimony of the centuries old festival. Of particular importance also is the existence of the Cariforum-EU Economic Partnership Agreement which allows for the liberalisation of the cultural sector and potentially presents both opportunities (and threats) for the sector.

Emphasis has therefore been placed on strengthening the institutions governing the sector, particularly in the area of intellectual property as "mas" costume and design represents an opportunity for country branding and cultural industry development.

A willingness to innovate and take a fresh approach to marketing the industry may also be the key to the sector's success. It is instructive to note that the CSO Carnival Report 2004 revealed that the majority of visitors coming to our shores to revel in the Carnival festivities are returning nationals and or members of the diaspora communities, primarily from the United Kingdom and the United States.

Indeed more than half of the visitors surveyed were Trinidad and Tobago-born individuals resident abroad. This is true also in the case of Brazil, where tourist arrivals for Rio's carnival come predominantly from Argentina and the rest of Latin America more so than from the North. In other words, there is more to be gained by deeper engagement along South-South lines than in the attempt to court what may be deemed as the traditional tourist markets.

The value of our Carnival product is undeniable and the lucrative earning potential of the sector is ought not to be ignored especially in our attempts to become less reliant on energy resources. Carnival is not only about reckless abandon but serves as an important platform for job creation and sustainable development.