Despite clear signs and the impact of a recession, coupled with threats of the Zika virus, Trinidadians are expected to be out in large numbers, along with the thousands of visitors, for the celebration of the twin island Republic’s annual pre-lentern carnival. The carnival celebration, which traditionally kicks off on Boxing Day December 26, will climax on Tuesday February 9 with the final parade of the bands and last lap jump-up.
The weekend “finale” was expected to kick off with the grand staging of the International Soca Monarch Friday evening dubbed “Fantastic Friday.” Last year’s groovy king Olatunji was a front-runner with his popular “Oh Yay.” However, Saint Lucia’s Teddyson John was said to have as good a chance with his song “Allez!” And despite staying out of the competition Machel Montano seemed to have come from behind this week to place his song “Waiting on the Stage” (a sequel to Advantageous) as a solid Road March contender.
The music and the rhythm of the mas seem to have overcome any fears of a Zika threat. Last week Trinidad and Tobago’s health minister declared a national health emergency over the mosquito-borne Zika virus. All major carnival venues, he said, would be sprayed but noted that it was not practical to screen persons arriving at the country’s ports of entry.
However, over the last few days the Zika threat did not seem to have any adverse effects on people’s partying habits or on visitor arrivals. Fetes like Machel Monday and Kees’ “Tuesday on the Rocks” went ahead as scheduled drawing thousands of patrons. The only fete casualty for the week was Destra’s “Queen of Bacchanal” which was cancelled one day before curtain call. Low-ticket sales were blamed. Fire Fete was also cancelled two weeks ago, while some events have recorded smaller crowds. A relatively short carnival season and the recession have been fingered.
According to many industry insiders the downturn in the economy has had a negative impact on some carnival fetes for 2016 and sponsorship has been hard to come by with some major sponsors either cutting back or pulling out all together. Telecommunications giant TSTT said at the beginning of the season that it would be cutting back on sponsorship of events as carnival was coming right on the heels of the public celebrating Christmas, amidst a slowing economy and low energy prices. Digicel and Carib Brewery, on the other hand, said they were ensuring they received value for what they put out according to a Trinidadian Guardian report.
It has been estimated that this year there are over 150 all-inclusive, cooler fetes and breakfast parties spread over January 1 to Ash Wednesday – a total of 41 days – with as many as 60 in the five weekends of January and 90 in the first ten days of February. Some say promoters in some instances have over-priced themselves. Fete prices range from TT$300 (US$50) to TT$3,000 (US$500).
On Carnival Saturday there are expected to be 19 events, while 18 are carded for Carnival Sunday. Still, organizers are banking on the influx of visitors mainly from North America, Europe and the Caribbean to boost numbers at events. At least 200 international flights will be operated throughout the carnival season bringing more than 25,000 passengers into Trinidad and Tobago. This according to a release from Caribbean Airlines as they seek to add extra flights to accommodate the carnival traffic. Key routes such as New York and Jamaica have also gained extra capacity.
A number of other major carriers including Virgin Atlantic, LIAT, American Airlines, Air Canada and British Airways are said to have seen an increase in business to Trinidad this week. The tale of the tape will be revealed come Ash Wednesday but already it looks like come rain, shine or storm, the show that is described, as “the greatest on earth” will go on!