The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines missed an opportunity with Vincymas 2023 to further promote the country as an events tourism destination.
Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday further that this was also the case with this year’s Bequia Easter Regatta.
Speaking on his weekly appearance on his New Democratic Party’s (NDP) “New Times” on NICE Radio on Monday, the opposition leader said his party has identified tourism, including events tourism, as a central pillar of the Vincentian economy.
He noted that a component of tourism is festival tourism, which includes carnival, the nation’s major cultural event.
“So, from a cultural identity perspective, it is critical,” Friday said.
“And it is not just for the cultural expression and the fun and the catharsis that others have spoken about that comes with this annual celebration. It also has an important component for tourism, our events tourism, and Carnival is the biggest of them all,” Friday said.
“And so, we have to find ways in which to maximise that, to ensure that there are more people coming into St. Vincent and the Grenadines to take part and they bring with them foreign earnings, foreign exchange and so forth, to celebrate with us, to partake with us but also by so doing contribute to our economy.”
The opposition leader said he had heard a lot of complaints this carnival about the way in which the artistes, especially soca artistes, were treated by the state-owned Carnival Development Corporation (CDC), which is responsible for organising the festival.
Friday noted that many artistes boycotted the festival “because they felt that they were not being treated fairly in terms of the financial contributions that they hope to get and the way in which the management, the CDC, being the institution, dealt with the concerns that the artistes had raised.
“These are things that need to be put in place,” the opposition leader said.
“I would have thought that this year, as we’re coming out of COVID and we’re having the first full carnival since that terrible interruption caused by the COVID and the volcanic eruption, that you would put your best foot forward this year; … it is almost like turning the page and saying listen, we are going forward bigger and better and hotter for carnival in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
He said that on the contrary, there was “this tentative feeling around” about whether the costume parade would return to Victoria Park.
“And nobody showed up in the park,” Friday said, adding that he attended Mardi Gras. “Hardly anybody was in the park when the bands passed through there.”
He said the CDC “seem to be still feeling their way as to how they proceed”.
The CDC had “this sort of antagonistic approach” towards private shows “as if CDC owns carnival and they define what carnival was and is and what carnival must be, when in fact, this is an organic thing that grows and evolves over time,” the opposition leader said.
He noted that carnival is now different from what it was 40 or 60 years ago. “And that comes from everybody who was involved in it, finding ways in which to make it more interesting.
“People are not going to do things that are not going to have appeal and to make it more unique to us. So, it has to be that kind of approach to building it and getting everybody involved — the mass bands and the revellers and the calypsonians and soca artistes, the pans and so forth.”
The opposition leader said he was glad to see so many young people learning to play the steel pan.
“The stigma that used to be associated with steel bands is gone. Now, it’s a revered instrument of our own creation here in the Caribbean and the steel bands are a place that you send your young children to learn to play pan.”
Friday said he was involved in “generation and creation” of kids pan in Bequia and his son took part in it.
Friday praised Starlift Steel Orchestra, Sion Hill Euphonium and all the other steel bands for continuing year after year.
He said it is “an expensive and difficult thing to motivate and to keep that together and they have done a tremendous job.
“And we have to, as a society and government as an institution, help to make that an easier job for them, to make it more viable so that we grow and expand.
“And I would have thought that this year was a great opportunity for us to take a mark and say, ‘Listen, we’re starting from here almost as if we are — not reinventing but we are going with new energy. And unfortunately, that was not present in the carnival this year.”
Friday said the complaint on the street was that things need to get better.
“You need to get more energy going into it. And so, events tourism is important for cultural expression, but it’s also important for our economy, the artistes get a chance to show their stuff and then hopefully to create a platform for them then to go into the region and elsewhere with their music and their crafts and so forth.”
He said other events tourism activities include the Bequia Easter Regatta, which is a major event on the Vincentian tourism calendar.
“And what happened this year? The Bequia Easter regatta is a pale imitation of what it normally would be because there was no yacht sailing there…”
He said the local double ender-boats “they basically organize things for themselves.
“And it was very, very reduced compared to what it has been over the years. So that festival itself this year, which should have been, again, a grand statement to say ‘this is where we are; forward in the future’ was left unattended as if it’s unimportant.
“And that can’t be a government that is looking forward to building tourism, nor understand the potential and the importance of those events for attracting people who are going to come here, enjoy our country, get a chance to taste and then maybe come back at some other time…
“All of those things have been allowed to just, you know, like they had no energy, people organising these things, they have no vision. They hit a wall.”
Friday said it is time for the government to go.
“This is where the people in this country have to make a decision that … in government, it’s a relay not a marathon; the baton has to be passed. Otherwise, if one person run in one leg and then want to run the second leg and the third leg, they fall behind and that is what is happening in the country.
“Grenada, St. Lucia, all of them gone forward. St Vincent, one man trying to run the whole race heself. And all of us suffer in the end because we don’t have no medals to show for it.”