A quiet Desperadoes Steel Orchestras rehearsal venue at the corner of Victoria Avenue and Tragarete Road, Port-of-Spain. The band would have been in preparation to defend its 2020 National Panorama Large Band Category title this year.

“Whether you see it and never take stock, but Carnival is in your mind only about woman and wuk, you so caught up with enjoyment that you don’t see the level of employment Carnival is a sea that deep and you don’t know nothing about them because you follow old talk like sheep.”

I begin with this verse from Bunji Garlin’s “Heart of the people” in which he details the extent of Carnival’s reach and how much this industry, that few truly understand, is not just about song and dance, but has deep economic and social importance to the country.

Today would have been Carnival Thursday and anyone who knows me would be certain that I would have this morning headed to a breakfast party and this afternoon into the night headed to Farmhouse, likely ending the night/morning into Tribe Ignite.

It is usually crunch time for people who enjoy the festival, the final week, leading up to the big parade of Carnival Monday and Tuesday.

The decision by the government to cancel Carnival was taken for good reason. Had such a decision not been made, there would surely be death and destruction because as a people Carnival is about close interaction. A potential launchpad for the coronavirus.

As we explore in other parts of this week’s Business Guardian, the lack of Carnival will mean a loss of billions of dollars for the economy and significant foreign exchange earnings.

Too often there are people who see government’s investment in Carnival as a waste of public funds but as we learn from economists Dr Keith Nurse and Dr Vanus James this is far from the truth and the reality is government’s investment is mere pittance compared to what the country gets in return.

The cancellation also allows us to have a serious discussion about Carnival, the arts and culture and how they can be integrated in such away that they lead to sustainability and an integration and enhancement of out tourism product.

Whether by design or pure accident, the decision of the Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to merge tourism and culture could prove to be an inspired one. His appointment of Randall Mitchell to the post some months ago was a step in the right direction and as long as Mitchell puts his mind and effort to the job and he gets real, not tacit support, from the Prime Minister, just maybe we could finally get this thing right as a country. It is not beyond Mitchell but he will surely fail without strong support from the Cabinet.

When I think of a complete tourism plan in the English-speaking Caribbean I always think of Jamaica. It is the island with perhaps the most offerings. Like the three Bs—Barbados, Bahamas and Bermuda—it too has beautiful beaches, it has luxury and budget accommodation, high quality service, lots of things to see and do, but most of all it has a strong cultural identity that underpins all of its offerings.

“Irie” the slang of Jamaicans is known world over, as is its reggae music, its jerk and yes soon, its Carnival.

Jamaicans like many other Caribbean islands are experts at marketing their destination but it is clear that its product is not just sand and sea and natural beauty but it’s about adventure, culture, about sport, food and music. It’s about festivals and about being proudly Jamaican.

T&T must see its tourism future inextricably linked to our unique culture and other offerings.

We must accept that our tourism cannot compete with, say, Barbados based on the beauty of our beaches, no matter how we delude ourselves about Tobago. But what Tobago and Trinidad have are offerings that if developed can truly rival the best.

We may have good beaches as opposed to great ones, but Tobago in particular has some of the best diving anywhere in the Caribbean. T&T’s diversity is its strength in terms of its tourism potential and therefore its culture, its festivals outside of carnival, its artistes, soca, chutney, zess not to mention its culinary experience, promises so much as a destination. Its greatest challenge is leadership and a commitment to diversify our income streams.

We have to understand our tourism product and what is possible. It is true that the Northern Caribbean islands have a real advantage of proximity to the major North American source markets.

You cannot, for example, decide on a weekend cruise from Florida to the Southern Caribbean.

Also long-haul and mid-range flights tend to be more expensive than the short flights to Hamilton, Mobay or Nassau. So our product differentiation must be centred around the experience the visitor can have. This is also in keeping with the modern visitor who prior to COVID-19 wanted a destination that he or she can experience and see up-close the real way of life and not just lie on the beach and drink rum punch.

As Bunji says, T&T must see that Carnival is a sea that is deep. It is the lowest hanging fruit to building out a festivals product that is second to none. It will not be easy but it is doable.

Already we have seen that our artistes are prepared to innovate again. Carnival is in many ways a testament to our innovation but it is also an example of our strength in logistics, event planning, in efficiency.

No Carnival must not mean no work, it should mean planning to make the greatest street party, truly the greatest show on earth.