This idea being floated in this piece for consideration and discussion of its merits did not originate from MNI Media’s Editorial desk. Rather, this idea is the brainchild, presented via conversation to MNI Media, by accomplished international Montserrat DJ Shaker HD. Having spoken to Shaker HD, and asked a few key questions around his thoughts as he shared them, I requested from him that MNI Media floats this into the wider public domain so as to gauge feedback. I will lay out the parameters then present the idea Shaker HD floated to MNI.
For years running, the people of Montserrat have been complaining tirelessly about the decline of the year-end festival. Many have said St Patrick’s and its emergence is to blame, but let us be frank, St Patrick’s dominance of planning did not herald Festival’s decline, as this decline began many years before St Patrick’s gained the status it now has.
Numbers have been declining in terms of attendance at Festival events, and this can be directly linked to the fact that December was once the time when many Montserratians travelled home to partake in Festival. This dynamic sadly has now changed. But why has it changed?
In 2012, the UK government introduced an increase in their air passenger duty tax on airline tickets for international flights. That not only impacted the Caribbean, but most international destinations originating from the UK. There was some lobby to have these taxes reduced for the Caribbean region, but still from 2012 onwards, flying from the UK to the Caribbean went up significantly. This has seen many Montserratians who once would have come home to the island in December with their families in tow, they can no longer make this journey as the flight costs are too exorbitant.
Coupled with that, the additional requirements of spending monies and the likes makes it somewhat of a financial burden, if not carefully planned from early in the year to make the journey home. Another factor is that the families of many of these once strong travelling numbers are in the UK mainly now, and as Christmas is a time for family and sharing in that spirit, some would opt to stay in the UK to enjoy the season with their loved ones. These are the realities.
The above scenarios have had a negative effect on Montserrat’s Festival. The numbers coming home to the island are down. Thus the events are poorly attended, as local numbers do not fill that void so as to make the shows viable and engage that full Festival spirit. Also into consideration is that many of the "new Montserratians” do not participate in the culture that Festival has traditionally represented for Montserrat. This too impacts participation. It is true, we have had Diaspora groups involve themselves in troupes and groups making revelry, but let us face the facts - the numbers for parade day, festival day and the likes have been dismal and continue to decline.
Private promoters who once participated openly in organising events for festival are now shying away as the cost to put on a show in Montserrat, if bringing in outside artistes is huge. Also, with a limited sponsorship pool, the returns have often been at a loss to those who spend thousands on their events.
Could it be that the December festival is in need of a massive funding injection with a new panel of organisers? Could it be that there needs to be more planning and marketing starting early in the year for the year-end Festival?
All those scenarios may be considered on merit, but how do you suffice for the fact that the majority of Festival attendees are Montserrat’s Diaspora who live in the UK, and the airfares are not getting cheaper but more expensive.
The “Carnival” Solution
The idea as floated by DJ Shaker HD is one where he says, why does Montserrat not consider switching out from the year-end Festival being the primary cultural/party time of year in December when many simply can no longer afford to travel, towards the island’s tourism and party planners looking towards finally creating a Montserrat “CARNIVAL”.
Note the switch from Festival to Carnival.
The idea, MNI Media thinks is one worth considering. Most other islands have multiple events that are somewhat in that Carnival ethos. So Montserrat equally can consider embarking and marketing a unique and fun-filled Montserrat CARNIVAL during the May-June period of the year that lasts no more than ONE WEEK!
Why CARNIVAL in May-June?
We have already established the impact the non-attendance of the Diaspora is having on Festival due to high airfares. Shaker HD in his role as a travel professional is well placed, and informs MNI Media that the two cheapest times of year for persons to travel from the UK to the Caribbean is May/June and also September/October. Thus this takes care of the issue of high flight costs, as fares at that time would be more affordable at around £450-£500 as opposed to £800, nearing £1000 in December. These low fares in May-June run right through to June 30th.
The times to be considered could be around:
Labour Day or Whit Monday
What about competition from other islands?
Well technically if this is a great concern, then Montserrat already competes with St Kitts and St Croix during December for numbers for those looking for a party. However, for the period being suggested this is how it looks:
St Maarten: April
Vincy Mas: End of June
Early July: St Lucia
Mid July: Antigua
End of July: Barbados
Grenada: mid August
Between end of May to June month-end there is nothing.
The Carnival can also be marketed to neighbouring islands such as Antigua, St Kitts, St Maarten, and Dominica, to attract others to the island. In times gone by, Montserrat created its own Festival numbers, but the island no longer has that luxury. Also it is harder to get people to come to the island during Christmas time from neighbouring islands for a long festival such as what we presently have.
One solid week of CARNIVAL in May-June that is planned and marketed properly both for tourism and economic activity that can help to set Montserrat back on the party map of the Caribbean like we once were.
What of the present December Festival?
Keep it. It can be a lesser cultural affair such as Dominica’s Creole in the Park, which does not compete with their main carnival. Both are planned well and also bring in revenue at different times of the year. One is simply bigger than the other.
Why not turn St Patrick’s into this Carnival idea then?
No. Allow St Patrick’s to regain its status as a Heritage Festival to celebrate the sacrifice of our Ancestors and our culture that has made us uniquely Montserratian. Plan it well to be the Heritage expression that it rightfully should be in respect to our Ancestors’ memory.
So! A Montserrat CARNIVAL sometime between May-June.
What do you think?
Note: Jeevan A. Robinson is Editor-in-Chief and Head of Business Development at Marketing, News & Information Media - MNI Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org