The Tobago House of Assembly incurred a $7 million loss on the recently concluded Tobago Jazz Experience and Tobago Carnival last October.
After spending $9.2 million to execute Tobago’s Carnival, the two-day event flopped, leaving the THA with a loss of $706,317.58.
This was revealed at a Joint Select Committee (JSC) on the administration of the THA yesterday.
Reading from a document he received from the THA, JSC member Laurence Hislop revealed to his other colleagues that the island’s Carnival cost $9,207,183. The THA meanwhile spent $8,368,153, corporate sponsors contributed $830,000 and $9,030 worth of tickets were sold, resulting in a loss of $706,317.58.
Following the Carnival last October, THA Secretary of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation Tashia Burris had pointed out that the initial budget for the inaugural Carnival was $17.5 million. However, she said what they actually expected to spend, after the Tobago Festivals Commission and Tobago Tourism Agency Limited (TTAL) tabulated expenses, would be in the region of $12 to $13 million, which meant the Assembly was expected to save $4 million.
At yesterday’s JSC, Hislop questioned Division of Finance, Trade and the Economy employees on whether it made sense to host Carnival again in the next four months, considering the THA did not break even.
Chief technical advisor Anselm Richards defended the event, saying it was not meant to make a profit but to encourage tourists locally and abroad to visit Tobago.
“The Tobago Carnival was not conceptualised as a profit-making event from the perspective of the THA but rather a vehicle to bring human traffic into the island, if you understand the nature of the Tobago economy. You need human traffic to generate economic activity, commercial activity on the island,” Richards told the JSC members.
He said a study of the event was conducted by the TTAL research department, but it had not yet been peer reviewed.
Meanwhile, the Tobago Jazz Experience, which made a return on April 20 after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, also suffered a loss of $6.4 million. The event cost $11.9 million to put on.
According to the breakdown provided by Hislop to the JSC panel, the income for the event was $5,516,385, the THA provided a subvention of $3.1 million, Carib Brewery contributed $330,000 in corporate donations, ticket sales amounted to $2.4 million, and account receivables were $37,000.
“The total expenditure was in the vicinity of about $11.9 million. And so there again, based on submissions from the division, we have a deficit of $6,402,786,” Hislop revealed.
Responding to Guardian Media on the issue of both the Carnival and Jazz Experience recording losses during a telephone interview last evening, Secretary Burris said it was never an issue of the THA seeking to make a profit off the events, but rather for businesses in the tourism sector, including hotels, restaurants, travel agencies and vendors, to benefit.
“The Carnival was designed to be an economic driver, so the purpose of having the event is to get people into Tobago to be able to market the destination, to have a new event on our calendar that could attract certain numbers of persons into the space during a time that is a traditional low season. So, we knew that in the first year, there would be some significant investment that we would have to make,” Burris said.
She also reminded that the Tobago Jazz Experience never made a profit and said it will no longer be funded solely by the THA going forward.
“We decided to make this the last year in terms of its current incarnation, because we feel that the Tobago House of Assembly has to get out of the business of being event promoters and we actually want the private sector to get more involved in driving the events tourism industry,” she said.
Meanwhile, Richards also told the JSC that the THA is working on attracting foreign investors who are still leaning towards tourism, as they struggle to diversify the economy. He said manufacturing and food production are key to their plans.
“We are looking specifically at the Studley Park Quarry. There is an opportunity there for us to do value added products like sandpaper, stone piles and all of that,” he said.
“We have an international company in the name of Berrycove that has made a significant investment to produce strawberries in Tobago. That project is far advanced and I think in the coming months we will be able to ship strawberries to Trinidad and other countries in the region.”
Berrycove has a commercially scaled climate-smart hydroponic greenhouse farm located on Cove Estate in Tobago.
Several key individuals from the Division of Finance, Trade and the Economy, as well as the Division of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation, were absent from yesterday’s JSC.
Those officials who were there, were, therefore, unprepared to answer crucial questions. This did not go down well with the JSC, who chastised the team present and indicated that they would have to reappear on July 5, when it is hoped they will be better prepared to answer all the questions the JSC members had for them yesterday.