FLASHBACK: Nadia Batson entertains patrons during Passage to Asia Senses Fete on Saturday night at the Jamboree Park, Valsayn, last year.

Tourism Minister Randall Mitchell has announced a series of initiatives which he hopes will make this country a destination of choice post the COVID-19 pandemic including a festival of fetes carded for the end of August.

Speaking in the Senate during the recently concluded Budget debate, the Tourism Minister said in the June/July months the ministry believes there is the possibility of ‘packaging and marketing as a festival, the number of band launches that occur during the period into a band launch season occurring over the space of two weekends which, as we know a band launch takes the form of a model runway, with costume designs, models and designers during a premium fete.

He told the Upper House that following the band-launch initiative the Tourism Ministry sees the possibility of attracting visitors who could not make it to Carnival in a festival of fetes.

“And towards the end of August, we envision another festival that celebrates our distinct creative culture and how we have been able to innovate our hosting of events over the past years. With these new festivals, we see the creation of economic value for our cultural workers, our artistes, promoters, musicians and their ability to earn. As well as all the service providers. We see the attraction of visitors who could not make it for Carnival but who could perhaps visit and attend some of these new festivals. And as we plan and package these festivals, at present we are working with the promoters and with the Attorney General’s Office to reduce the bureaucracy that exists with hosting these events, with permissions from Fire, Police and the various licences. Simply put, the idea is to get more visitors, and more value created in the economy through our creative sector,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell, who also has responsibility for the arts and the creative sector, noted that the cancellation of Carnival 2021 was a major hit to the economy. He pointed out that Carnival alone accounts for 10 per cent of the country’s total visitors and almost half a billion dollars in direct spend from visitors, not to mention the overall spend.

“There is no denying the vast economic impact for successful festivals. Carnival alone, the direct economic value for visitor spend is around TT$450 million. And this is just counting the 10 days leading up to Carnival Monday and Tuesday. And of course, the benefits are enormous when you consider all the stakeholders who earn from this festival­—the promoters, the artistes, the service providers, mas makers, musicians, vendors and taxi drivers,” Mitchell noted.

He added, “Carnival attracts approximately 10 per cent of our annual visitors to our shores, and we intend to market and leverage on the popularity of our Carnival product while remaining true to its roots which is what differentiates us. Earlier this year, as Carnival was cancelled, we saw an upsurge in different types of creative expression—Carnival products being produced in a theatrical form in the performance spaces with the production mas, as well as through Film with LAVWAY from Tribe. Concerts were also held indoors within our performance spaces with great success and we intend to encourage and support these offerings.”

Mitchell said government sees the opportunity to improve upon and build new festivals to create and contribute economic value to the country.

He argued that T&T is a melting pot of many creeds and races and therefore the festivals will not be limited to Carnival but include offerings for other festivals including Emancipation, Divali and Phagwa.

The Tourism Minister said with respect to the Emancipation celebrations the ministry sees the prospect of working more closely with the Emancipation Support Committee to build on that festival and to explore any opportunities that the declaration by the US of Juneteenth as a Federal Holiday may bring, by attracting the African Diaspora and re-establishing our position as the first country to declare Emancipation Day a national holiday.

“And we also feel that there is room to improve our Divali and Phagwa celebrations which would inspire greater appeal to the Indian Diaspora in the Guyanese and Surinamese Markets,” Mitchell noted.

With several Jazz festivals already part of the national landscape, Mitchell sees an opportunity to piggy back on those offerings to increase arrivals to this country.

He told the Upper House, “Events such as North Coast Jazz, Jazz on the Greens, Eat Drink and Jazz and the Tobago Jazz Festival have all sprung up. And we believe there is opportunity to work with the promoters of all these events in coming up with a well packaged, marketable season which would culminate at the end of the Easter Weekend.”

With the plan to increase arrivals must be a need to upgrade, maintain and add more rooms to the stock already in existence in the country. With that in mind Mitchell said over the the last financial year government supported the construction of several properties.

The Radisson Blu – 79 apt styled Rooms, delayed and is carded to open next year.

The Brix – 161 rooms is 90% complete and scheduled to open by the end of the year.

Comfort Inn Suites – 74 Rooms is also around 80% complete and scheduled to opened by the end of 2021.

With respect to the recently announced Marriott in Tobago Mitchell said, “President, I also had the distinct pleasure to be a part of the award to the local consortium, Superior Hotels Ltd. of the Rocky Point site after a Competitive RFP, to construct an Integrated Resort Development in Tobago. A 200 Room 4 Star hotel.

This will add 200 high quality rooms and become an Anchor Property for the Island of Tobago.

With Construction due to complete by 2024-2025 and 750 persons will be employed during construction and about 250 during Operations. This New Marriott and the Comfort Inn Suites will marry well with the New Airport Terminal Building carded to be built.” The Minister told the Parliament.

He also announced the Hampton by Hilton Trinidad at Piarco.

“We are presently also treating with an application for another Hotel, Hampton by Hilton at Piarco in Trinidad for 103 rooms, Coffee shop, Restaurant, Conference Meeting Room which is carded to start in January 2022. The Developer has all the necessary approvals and has advised that the property will take approximately 24 months to complete. Cost approximately $65 Million Dollars. And about 250 persons will be employed during the Construction Phase and 70 persons during the Operational Phase. So over the next 4 years we expect now to have over 852 Brand New, High Quality Rooms here in Trinidad and Tobago.”

The Minister also crowed about the new KLM flight between Amsterdam and Port of Spain that would act as a gateway to Europe.

“We have also consumed a lot of productive time and effort over the last 2 years of engagement, and on last Saturday we welcomed the return of KLM after more than 20 years. And this new route from Amsterdam reopens the possibilities for the Expansion of Trade, Tourism to the Dutch and other surrounding Markets with Trinidad and Tobago. It also opens up for faster connections for the majority of Trinbagonians of the West African and Indian Diaspora to connect through Amsterdam.”

Mitchell added, “ It is a Winter Flight, and the possibilities to market our Carnival Offerings in the months of January and February, as well as a quick flight or ferry across to Tobago for Sun, Sea and Sand to the European Market.”

Mitchell told the Senate that spreading and sharing T&T’s culture abroad is incredibly effective to our Destination Marketing and Strategy, and also to our Cultural Strategy.

He pointed to the success of such an approach of other countries such as the USA and Jamaica as a result over the next Financial Year government plans to embark upon a campaign to spread T&T’s culture to the world by engaging and using its Missions Abroad, as well as the Diaspora Associations and key diaspora members and influencers in a strategy geared towards spreading and sharing our culture and the marketing Appeal of our Destinations.

“We also have a Cabinet Approved Cultural Ambassador Programme that we expect to launch shortly where we will select some Cultural Ambassadors who have, by their talents, secured large fan bases and followings across the world to promote the Destination and our Culture.” he ended