Rising numbers of COVID-19 cases has left many industries reeling, but none may have been worse affected than those who have hung their livelihood on the Carnival industry.
In their first quarter financial reports companies such as Witco, Prestige, Angostura, One Caribbean Media and Guardian Media Ltd have reported reduced incomes for the period and attributed it to the absence of the Carnival period.
In one instance, Angostura avoided greater dips in revenue due to the absence of Carnival by cutting back on the marketing and promotions they would have usually done during the season.
However, the devastation for those directly involved is immense.
“It would undoubtedly represent a massive loss not only to the Carnival industry but to the national economy as well,” said Rosalind Gabriel, president of the T&T Carnival Bands Association.
“Given how much the industry has already been impacted, after just one year cancelled, it is reasonable to assume that if Carnival were cancelled again, those impacts would worsen drastically unless something is done to steel the industry against that severe of a shock. The sense of loss is widespread but we have been trying to help our members find access to whatever is available by way of grants and other charitable donations,” she said.
Many of the bands are worried that they would not survive another year without a Carnival season.
“When it comes to the potential expected losses, what particularly keeps us up at night is the number of bands that many believe will not to be able to return to full, or even any production after more than two years of lockdown,” she said.
“Due to the fact that Carnival is a major income stream for many in the Mas community, our most modest estimate is that we may lose anywhere up to 35% by the second year of no Carnival.”
Gabriel explained that the fallout of this year’s cancellation continued to reverberate throughout the industry.“Many of them rely heavily on Carnival as a source of income. The cancellation has presented a tremendous setback to them and to the industry as a whole. Some Mas camps have shut down without much hope of reopening right away since their resources have been significantly strained, and in some cases, depleted,” said Gabriel
The frustration over the situation was evident when we spoke to Ronnie & Caro bandleader Ronnie McIntosh, who was displeased after initial progress in bringing down the cases we were now in the position of potentially cancelling the event again.
“My question is: how are we at this point again?” said McIntosh, “I find it sad that we at this position again where you calling me about 2022 Carnival, that’s so sad. And we depend on this to live.”
McIntosh said the industry had been surviving up to this point, without much help from the Government as local designers have long been involved in international events.
“A lot of the major designers are already tapped into Miami Carnival or are already tapped into Cayman Islands Carnival which is July 3,” he explained. These events were able to go forward he said due to proper structure and planning going into their vaccination effort, something which he could not say about our effort.
His fear, he told Guardian Media, was that another variant could be introduced creating another spike, placing Carnival 2022 in further jeopardy.
The longer plans for Carnival remains uncertain, the less likely Carnival as we have come to know it, can come to be.
Gabriel estimates that most band leaders would need to know by June to get themselves in proper gear, while costume designers and producers told Guardian Media that if an announcement came as late as November it would be near impossible for a medium band to large bands to put together a presentation resembling their offerings in recent years.
Valmiki Maharaj of Lost Tribe was a little more optimistic that something could be put together even with a late confirmation.
“We would support them at any point. Call to action is the nature of our business. But the product will take form based on the time and resources available,” he said.
Maharaj said the creative community had suffered greatly with the cancellation but had started showing some signs of necessary adaption during the period by tapping into other fields. However he ultimately agreed with Gabriel that many within the industry could not survive another cancellation.
“I think it’ll be very, very, very difficult for many people to survive one year into a next year if there isn’t a Carnival on the flip side of that. I think it provides a very interesting opportunity for us to be innovative and try to do something else to be able to facilitate the market because nobody cannot tell me the market is not there,” he said, pointing out the demand for Carnival that he had seen across the diaspora.
Remarkably while the corporate companies attributed some of the losses to the absence of Carnival, the stakeholders themselves could not put a solid figure on the overall losses suffered as result due to Carnival.
“Placing an exact dollar value on the cancellation’s impact would be extremely difficult to give. Figures from the CSO estimate that at least US$100 million is generated annually from Carnival. Harder still to estimate is the cultural and societal impacts it has, and continues to have,” said Gabriel.
The potential for income from foreign Carnivals was welcomed, but even then it was unclear if it would anywhere near the revenue earned in what is considered a normal year.
Maharaj explained that the border restrictions would make it difficult for designers and producers to fly out to produce for these Carnivals as they would previously, whilst there was also the possibility that costumes and designs which had been already been created for cancelled Carnivals last year may be used this year reducing potential earnings for designers and producers.
“Working at international festivals would help the mas fraternity, but could never be considered a good enough replacement for our own festival. What’s worse, given the limitations and disruptions brought about by the pandemic, there isn’t that freedom of movement that would make work at international festivals financially viable since travelling to and from would be made that much more difficult,” said Gabriel.
Artistes like Farmer Napper, Iwer George, Patrice Roberts and Ricardo have been flying out to perform at events. A silver lining which pleased McIntosh.
“We are surviving without the help. The Carnival industry is surviving, without any assistance. We are surviving thank God. We now getting some attention, the local designers are now getting some attention,” he said, “I am happy for those artistes who could fly out and get some income.”