When it comes to festivals, no region can rival the diversity that is found in the Caribbean.
From Carnivals to music festivals featuring genres that were created in the region to food and sports, the Caribbean has something for everyone.
While some festivals are formed as an expression of our history, others serve as marketing tools to lure tourists to the region and some are given more prominence than others.
-19 dealing a severe blow to the tourism industry, the question of how we can enhance our cultural products packaged as festivals to lure travellers in the post-pandemic era is an ongoing discussion.
In a recent panel discussion held by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) on Marketing our Identity, several issues were explored but what stood out were talks on how to create a cultural identity and finding the balance between giving visitors a true, unfiltered experience without watering it down as a commodity.
Dr Joanne Tull, Lecturer of Carnival Studies at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies, said there is a need for policy to find a balance between commodification and the lived experience.
“We are still having this difficulty of coming to this middle ground or what I call the balance. Either we find ourselves on the one hand saying we don’t really want to commoditise this too, too much because it is important that it remains of us. However, with the use of appropriate policy there is the opportunity to render and take advantage of a sustainable, intangible cultural heritage product to the extent that one could see the cultural economies going beyond the festival tourism platform we see so prevalent in the Caribbean,” she said.
Igor Stefanovich, Technical Coordinator at Ethics, Culture and Social Responsibility at the UNWTO, said while countries tailor their offerings to the markets they are catering for, investing in domestic tourism and sensitising locals to their own cultural resources will strengthen the market and our cultural identity even for visitors.
Stefanovic also suggested that the Caribbean develop a common identity to sell to the world.
He said: “If you would establish cultural rules that are not based only on history that sometimes has very bad connotations but if, for example, you establish rules based on the spices, on the way the different fruits and vegetables came into the archipelago and how they became ingrained into the local culture …or the kind of pottery or building techniques or irrigation techniques that different local communities have in different islands, you can have international cultural rules and maybe also connecting them with South American mainland and maybe the southern end of the United States. The context would be more in experiencing culture.”
Avery Grubb of the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce in Louisiana spoke about the lessons learnt from their annual Gumbo Festival which they have turned into a major tourism earner.
He said engaging the local population has been key to the festival’s 31-year success.
“Bringing that culture to other people is done by educating our local population and by engaging those people because we can market, we can buy ads, we can reach people across the entire world but what really brings people in is your friend down the street giving you a call saying hey we got this thing going on this weekend, you should come visit me and participate in this. Our value is that our market is not just the world it is our own parish as well,” he said.
He said with the event cancelled this year due to COVID
-19, they have packaged their virtual product to encourage visitors to experience the festival first hand when they can.
He said: “The virtual opportunity really brought us a chance to focus on our culture and what is bringing people back, so at every turn of our implementation the biggest question was how do we make someone want to come back, not for this festival but in general.”