Colin Lucas

The National Carnival Commission (NCC) started looking at the possibility of hosting Carnival 2021 virtually even before Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced the cancellation of the event.

NCC’s CEO Colin Lucas told Guardian Media in an interview on Wednesday that they could not ignore the rippling effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and so started planning earlier.

Lucas said staging T&T’s first virtual Carnival across the globe could come as a lifeline for the commission, which had been unable to make a profit in the past several years.

He said NCC does not make a profit from Carnival, despite the millions usually invested in it. For this year’s Carnival, NCC was allocated $165 million.

“NCC puts out the money. The country makes money through investments. But in a virtual framework, NCC stands to make a lot more money because you have a lot of streaming rights.”

One option of bringing the Carnival virtually to the world was through pay-per-view, Lucas said. But he added that a lot of thought will have to go into the marketing of such an event in order to reach the desired audience.

“So, we had been having discussions with some of the stakeholders. We even had a couple of preliminary discussions with people involving the (virtual) technology so it would not be a difficult ramp up if and when we decide virtual is it.”

The NCC CEO said they had a team working on a virtual programme which has already been submitted to its board. “Once we get the acquired approvals, we will go forward and nail down the configuration of each of the shows.” By mid-October, Lucas said, NCC should know which direction it intends to take.

Asked how much revenue and foreign exchange NCC could generate from this virtual Carnival, Lucas said they had not looked at the figures in any great detail. “This has been exploratory so far. It’s one thing of having a Carnival to show off yourself. It is quite another thing marketing and presenting an international show that can earn foreign exchange beyond people coming here and spending money.”

He also did not say how much it would cost to put the virtual show together.

“We have submitted something to the board, and something is being considered at a ministerial level,” he added.

‘Never waste a good crisis’

Claiming the pandemic could be a blessing in disguise for the NCC, Lucas said their biggest challenge in hosting a virtual event would be to ensure the correct mix of current and historical imagery and programming are prominently featured.

He said although it had been easy for some countries to host virtual shows and parades, it is more complex to properly represent T&T’s Carnival which has historical and cultural significance.

Lucas said the current challenge included the fact that people cannot gather in groups of more than ten. He questioned how can one virtually produce a Panorama, Dimanche Gras or Parade of the Bands with ten or less people present.

The NCC CEO said the better representation would be to highlight aspects of Panorama 2018, 2019 and 2020, than put ten steelpan players in a room to stream online.

“So, whatever we do to represent it we need to be clear that this is a taste…it is not the real thing. As great as we want it to look, we would do all within our power to be conceptually and electronically sound.”

Lucas said the end product must be a good and comprehensive package to attract the eyes of the world.

T&T’s first COVID-19 case was recorded in mid-March and the virus has since claimed more than 75 lives, with over 4,500 people being tested positive.

Lucas said, “It’s a sour taste, it’s not of our doing, but it has to be of our undoing.”

At the end of the virtual Carnival, Lucas is hoping people far and wide would experience T&T’s unique culture and food, as well as witness the greatest show on earth from the comfort of their chosen location.

“We have five months to prepare if we are going with the standard February 15 and 16 Carnival dates. But that may be something we may wish to reconsider also. Suppose our marketing intelligence says you know, if you do this at Easter, you will have a potentially bigger viewership, I am not saying that is the case, but we are looking at all avenues because there is a saying, never waste a good crisis.”

Minister Hints At Carnival Later In 2021

Tourism, Culture and the Arts Minister Randall Mitchell said considerations will be given to staging Carnival 2021 later than February.

Following Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s announcement on Monday that there would be no Carnival next year, Mitchell said in an interview last week that all was not lost.

He said “With the aim of generating economic activity, consideration will be given to having Carnival celebrations later in the year. This would also assist in reviving and revitalising the creative sector and all the sectors that support this festival and its events.”

THA: Economic fallout is great

Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly Ancil Dennis said he was unsurprised by the PM’s announcement.

Dennis, however, said “there would be some great fallout for the island of Tobago and nationally, of course, because there are a number of artisans, stakeholders and businesses especially in the tourism and creative sectors that depend on Carnival. This will have significant impacts which has been a feature of this pandemic. The economic fallout is great.”

He said the THA will continue to do what it has to.

“Where possible we will continue to host virtual and cultural events to continue to showcase our natural heritage and culture and promote and market the island as a tourist destination.”

If the circumstances improve, Dennis said they “might be able to have a Carnival in the later part of 2021.”

He said the THA has been engaged in discussions for the longest while “of having a separate Carnival, separate and apart from the national Carnival because we think there are significant benefits to be derived from that for Tobago and all its Carnival stakeholders.” He said this was still being ironed out.

Denise Tsoi-A-Fatt-Angus, chairman of the Tobago Festival Commission Ltd said the cancellation of Carnival should be an opportunity for Tobago to take a look at the art form and culture on a broader perspective.

“When we come back on the road for the festival where do we want this Carnival to go? What are the possibilities? Maybe it should spark some conversations around all of the stakeholders on a national level because COVID is not going to suddenly dry up. It is something we have to live with for at least the next two years.

“I think Carnival is more than just Monday and Tuesday. There are opportunities to portray our pan, calypsoes and costuming.”

She said Carnival must now be presented online in a way that is entertaining and educating. Asked if hosting Carnival in such a way will mean less revenue for Tobago, Tsoi-A-Fatt-Angus disagreed.

“Going virtual does not mean less revenue. It may end up being more revenue for us. We are having discussions on how we recoup on that revenue. I don’t want to say more. It may very well work out for all of us in the long run. If it is properly packaged you don’t have to charge big money.”

The commission has been in talks with stakeholders to come up with something feasible.

Having virtually hosted the Tobago Heritage Festival in July which attracted a wide viewership, Tsoi-A-Fatt-Angus, said they will build on what they have already achieved.

“I am excited and optimistic.”

T&T Carnival cancelled in the past

Carnival in T&T has been cancelled twice before due to war and disease.

The revelry was halted during 1942-1945 as World War II continued, and then again in 1972 when it was postponed for three months because of a polio outbreak.

Fast-forward to 2020, the COVID-19 virus has crippled global economies and claimed more than one million lives around the world.

Commenting on the effect this cancellation, historian Gerard Besson said there are tens of thousands of citizens who refrain from Carnival activities. “It is not the whole of T&T who will be affected or put out because Carnival is postponed.”

However, he said the cancellation would have a, “very, very bad effect on a large number of people who make a living during Carnival.” Besson said small entrepreneurs such as street vendors, bar operators, caterers, truck drivers, security personnel and craftsmen would feel the negative effects the most.

Looking ahead to Carnival 2022, Besson predicted, “It would be more modest than in the past because there would be less money to throw around. The price of fetes would go down, the price of costumes would go down.

“It will affect everybody and will have a knock-on effect in families and so on. Carnival 2022 would be far more modest than it has been in the past.”

Besson felt the idea of paying thousands of dollars for a costume would no longer be as feasible because people will just not have that disposable income as job losses increase and priorities change.

Commending the Prime Minister for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Besson said, “He has done a very responsible job so far, so it would be exceedingly irresponsible if he blew it now.”