When it comes to Caribbean-style carnivals, there is plenty to choose from throughout the year in a wide range of destinations across the region, the Americas and Europe.
That is why a huge challenge faces the 15-member committee planning the inaugural Tobago Carnival in October. They must ensure this newest addition to the festival calendar is packaged and promoted to grab a share of a very crowded and competitive market.
Starting off this late in the process, there is not much time to organise a calendar of activities distinctive enough to be seen as much more than a T&T Carnival part two. There are only a few months left to run a promotional campaign that is impactful enough to lure large numbers of international visitors to the island.
To be fair, the new Tobago House of Assembly (THA) administration, which took over the reins of leadership on the island just a few months ago, never had the luxury of time in planning this festival. That is why they needed to hit the ground running with these plans, particularly with the swift mobilisation of the necessary stakeholders to get involved at every stage of the festival development.
It is important to get things right from the start, bring in enough tourists to make the festival financially viable and put on the kind of show that will have visitors returning year after year.
At a media briefing yesterday, organisers of the October 20-30 event promised 72 hours of festivities featuring contemporary and traditional Carnival elements “with add-ons and features encompassing the island’s rich culture, heritage and history.”
That all sounds good in theory, but implementation is an entirely different matter.
An immediate concern is that the members of the Tobago October Carnival Commission are now talking about liaising with private sector groups to include events on their calendars. That should already have been done.
By now, there should have been solid partnerships with major industry players like Jules Sobion of Caesar’s Army, Tribe’s Dean Ackin and others with proven records of success in organising Carnival shows and fetes. These professionals can provide the guidance needed to avoid the pitfalls of the Tobago Jazz Experience and other major events that failed on the island.
Done right, Tobago Carnival can fit the vision enunciated in the National Tourism Policy (2020-2030) of a product that can “drive major economic activity through culture and tourism as well as highlighting and celebrating Tobago’s unique heritage and ways of expression.”
However, it must be developed as a sustainable tourism product that offers visitors unique experiences with the island’s diverse culture. This can be an opportunity for Tobago to step-up its marketing strategy to a degree that can fully achieve its tourism potential.
This event alone, if developed successfully, can deliver an economic boost for the island, which is still struggling to return to the levels of international arrivals of more than 87,000 of the mid-2000s. Before COVID-19 made things even worse, international visitor arrivals had dropped to 19,000. This chance to reverse that trend should not be wasted.
The bottom line is that there is little margin for error in staging this festival. Tobago must aim to become a top destination for Carnival lovers from around the world, or it could become another costly failure.