In the midst of an economic slump, Trinidad and Tobago's tourism and community development ministries have jumped on board — to the tune of TT$450,000 (about US$67,500) — a concept aimed at attracting tourists to the country's Carnival celebrations via the cruise line Royal Caribbean.
Dubbed ‘Soca on the Seas’, the idea to converge Trinidad and Tobago’s top soca music performers, Carnival band designers and other entertainers for a “Carnival on the high seas” was put forward by a Trinidadian diaspora businesswoman.
Despite Tourism Minister Shamfa Cudjoe calling the initiative “simply awesome and simply genius”, many netizens remain unconvinced about the return on investment. Facebook user and political commentator Rhoda Bharath commented:
I waiting patiently to hear Shamfa explain how this cruise ship thing fitting into her wider Tourism master plan…because up to now I aint hear a word about her agenda for Tourism.
This going to be E.P.I.C.
The National Tourism Policy of Trinidad and Tobago — which pre-dates Cudjoe's term in office — pays a lot of attention to cruise tourism under the policy content section. It notes that the sector has “demonstrated substantial growth” and that it “is considered one of the most robust in the tourism industry given [its] […] capacity to offer a wide range of entertainment and recreational activities on board.” Part of the country's economic goals include “[making] Trinidad and Tobago a more attractive cruise and yachting destination”.
Update: May 30, 2016 — Social media user Zico Cozier, who works as a producer at a local television station, shared the audio of a never-used interview he conducted with Dr. Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, the Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts, whose ministry is co-sponsoring the cruise. The audio quality is poor, so is not embedded here, but Dr. Gadsby-Dolly did liken the Soca on the Seas idea to “the reggae cruise that the Jamaican government supports”, explaining:
It docks in Jamaica and […] they do sponsorship and signage on that cruise, so we are looking at it in the sense that […] the emphasis is branding Trinidad and Tobago, so even though they’re not docking in Trinidad and Tobago they have a clear idea of who is sponsoring this cruise and where all this music and fashion and pan and so on is coming from.
But the logic of the Soca on the Seas cruise remains lost on Facebook users like Jonathan Ali, who shared a link about the initiative and quipped:
Ship of Fools.
In a public Facebook post, Cozier agreed:
An investment has returns. What are the returns on this […]?
Meanwhile, the project's Facebook page already has over 3,000 likes and promotion for the event is in full swing.
Iain Waller, in a public Facebook post, thought it was a complete waste of public funds:
Our hard earned money at work. Well done. They could use that money to pay the rent on 1 Alexandra street!
His reference to 1 Alexandra Street refers to a multi-storey commercial building which remained empty for while the government paid millions of dollars in rent to the owners.
Rhoda Bharath also commented:
A Boat Cruise to save Tourism!
Some questions bouncing around my head:
Why Yuma [a Carnival band] alone?
Why not a sampling of both traditional and contemporary bands? So our Carnival diversity is on display?
And why a boat cruise that goes between Miami and Bahamas?
How will TT Carnival 2017 benefit from this? In plain talk, not Govt Minister rhetoric.
How does this initiative factor into a larger tourism plan?
How stupid do you think we really are? Again, in plain speech, not Govt Minister rhetoric.
Finally, satirical website The Late O'Clock News took a jab at the whole idea on the occasion of the Indian Arrival Day holiday, which was observed on May 30:
Minister of Tourism Shamfa Cudjoe has announced the successful launch of the government’s ‘Indian Arrival Cruise’. The government is hoping that the cruise attracts tourists who will enjoy Trinidad when we’re not partying. Unlike the controversial Carnival Cruise however, this boat cost nothing but a little integrity.
What an idiotic concept! Paying out my & others taxes to promote culture but at the same time this country would be LOSING REVENUE since the cruise is not TO Trinidad & Tobago BUT AWAY between the Bahamas & Miami. Simply put T&T would be disbursing the TAX PAYERS’ monies for the BENEFIT of OTHER countries!
Can I add a different twist to this ongoing discussion? IMHO this has nothing to do with any long term plan or expected returns on investment. It’s a government sponsored 4 day all- inclusive get-together on a cruise liner. A one-off project allowing our entertainers to gain some income outside of the T&T carnival season. That being said, I’m somewhat concerned about the Calypso genre being excluded from the entertainment program.
Minister of Tourism, Shamfa Cudjoe, said this initiative packages T&T’s culture, cuisine and creativity. My question is why isn’t the Genre of Calypso represented? Isn’t it part of our culture and part of the Carnival package? Soca, Chutney Soca, Steel pan are all part of the entertainment package. For what reason was the Calypso Genre overlooked?
Why four days of blaring Soca? Based on the program, there was ample room to have some Calypsonians on the agenda, such as a matinee with some good ole vintage kaiso with Lord Relator or even David Bereaux and Friends. The comedy lineup could have included humorous calypsonians such as Trinidad Rio, Lord Funny, Myron Bruce etc. What about Chucky Gordon? A young vibrant Calypso Artiste who has the ability to engage any crowd be it old or young. Seems like Gov officials are not seeing Calypso beyond the tent experience. That’s most unfortunate, a mindset that has to change.
This notion of exposure and “branding Trinidad and Tobago”, while par for the course in modern marketing, has been a failure in increasing tourist arrvals or foreign investments inthe past. And there is no compelling evidence that because Jamaica sponsored a Reggae Cruise, the same benefits or ROI will accrue to us in T&T. I wrote back in 2012— http://bit.ly/1Y6CMHf — on the failure of major multi-million dollar government investments in the past, notably Miss Universe, as a catalyst to improving our image among a target market. All came to nought. This continued belief that the “grand event” or grand edifice can save an industry has been the bane of Caribbean diversification policy. “One and done” instead grow samll to large has to be eradicated from public policy thinking for tourism, for creative industries, for Caribbean recognition in the world.