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The Carnival caprice noisily launched by the Christie administration is mostly of dubious economic and cultural value - a mass of confusion alienating much of the artistic community. Its intellectual and ideational underpinnings are unsound.
We are again set to pay the price for Prime Minister Perry Christie's falling in love with an idea without thinking it through and examining the complex of issues involved in such an undertaking. Having gone this far with the Carnival folly the government is feverishly trying to save face and to distract attention in a sort of bread and circuses with all manner of bells and whistles.
In significant ways the carnival idea is a wasted opportunity with potentially high costs. The time and expense could have been better utilized to enhance our tourism product and the visitor experience with a myriad of heritage and cultural offerings throughout the 365 days of the year instead of the relatively brief lead-up to and the actual three-day extravaganza.
The Carnival is a boondoggle for certain interests and is not the best use of limited funds. Have some people gone along with the Carnival charade mostly out of personal gain?
The original idea of how much was going to be raised from the private sector was nonsensical and failed to materialize. Why would various companies expend millions for little to no gain? This in itself is a vote of no confidence.
Fraught with confusion, last minute decisions, missteps, mismanagement and poor marketing, an already troubled venture is reeling with all manner of problems. The economics of this Carnival are questionable, with the costs likely not commensurate with the payoff in the short- or long-term.
The majority of those who attend Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago are locals, as is the case with Junkanoo here at home. Most of those visiting for T&T Carnival from overseas are known as VFR traffic, those visiting friends and relatives. It has little to do with pure tourism.
One observer of the tourism industry commenting on the economics of the Bahamian Carnival cast doubt on the returns from the event:
"The organizers would have us believe that the week-long event could generate up to 2.5 per cent of GDP. On average, that is approximately the volume of GDP generated every week, so it is expected to produce another week's worth of GDP. Assuming an $8 billion economy, 2.5 per cent represents $200 million in transactions. Utter nonsense!"
With a lifetime of studies in comparative religion and comparative mythology, the renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell captured something essential about the human experience:
"People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive ... so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive."
Whether one fully agrees or not, Campbell enthused that humans are seekers of enthralling experiences, and of bliss, that feeling of utter joy and happiness, like the "ah-ha" experience and euphoria of visitors and Bahamians alike, mesmerized by the dazzling array of the blues and greens of our pristine waters, a kaleidoscope of emerald, jade, azure, aqua and other shades of unbounded beauty bordered by spectacular beaches bespeckled with solid droplets of pink, accompanied by the yellow, purple and orange hues of sunbeams changing into the appropriate colors from sunrise to sunset.
But the magic of The Bahamas is no more contained in the destinations of Nassau/Paradise Island and Freeport than it is in the elixirs of sun, sand and sea. We are an archipelago of destinations and an archipelago of varied experiences both natural and cultural, beyond our traditional triple S tonic offered to visitors.
The visitor experience comes in many forms, from beach expanses to small ovoid green pods encasing a shell with a nut inside surrounded by a fleshy yellowish, salmon or orange pulp that may be sweet or sour or a juicy combination of both.
An American friend visiting The Bahamas recalls a week gorging on guineps as a highlight of her visit, with the inevitable mouth-twisting sensation from overconsumption. In her mid-40s she discovered a new fruit that has become one of her favorites. On her return to the U.S. she raved to friends about guineps and sapodillas, the kind of word-of-mouth advertising that is golden.
Food communicates so much about a country's natural and cultural heritage and is often a highlight of a visitor's experience. While eating at Fish Fry, a friend began chatting with a couple visiting from Florida, who keeps returning because they love Bahamian conch salad, conch fritters and Bahama mamas. That afternoon they rushed to the Fish Fry after a quick check-in at the hotel.
Fish Fry was the brainchild of its Bahamian creators and a sympathetic FNM government and has proven a magnet for tourists. It is the kind of food heritage experience that has helped to diversify and improve our tourism product and the visitor experience.
So too might the offerings of young entrepreneurs like Alana Rodgers and her Tru Bahamian Food Tours, and Johnathan Forbes Jr. of Tasty Teas, which produces Bahamian iced teas and juices with flavors such as passion fruit, tamarind, soursop, fever grass, 21-gun salute and others.
There is much that can be done to assist and provide economic platforms for entrepreneurs wishing to showcase Bahamian culinary treats. This was the idea behind the Native Food Market proposed by the FNM at the last election.
Such a market may offer a veritable feast of local fruits in season and food and drink made by small- and medium-sized Bahamian businesses including products such as jams, juices, ice cream, daiquiris, coconut tart, benny cake and other treats.
Tourists would flock to such a market to taste delights they have never before experienced. From gardens and farms to such a food market, many Bahamians would find jobs and economic opportunities as a part of the ongoing diversification within the tourism industry.
The FNM also proposed the development of a Native Craft Market to showcase the work of Bahamian arts and crafts, yet another economic platform for artists and those producing various crafts.
One of the signature proposals of the FNM in its last election manifesto was the development of an ambitious Heritage Tourism project, which would help in the development of various heritage sites throughout the country, offering visitors a variety of ways to appreciate the history and heritage of the Bahamas.
Several years ago two dear friends visited from the U.S. at New Year's. The couple lived in Asia for many years, with the husband serving as a diplomat. His wife's passion for the theatre developed on their return to the US, with her founding a successful theatre and acting conservatory, and directing scores of plays over many decades.
Ardent travellers and cultural enthusiasts, they wound up at the New Year's Day Junkanoo parade, and experienced what they termed, the rapture of Junkanoo, a cultural experience that they never had before in their many years of extensive travel and living overseas. The couple initially thought that the Bahamas was like any other Caribbean destination with sun, sand and sea.
What made their trip memorable was the uniqueness of Junkanoo. Amidst all of the U.S. fast food outlets and the other trappings of Americana, they delighted in something quite other or different from what they might find at home or elsewhere, all of which makes the point.
The nine million dollars budgeted thus far for the Carnival could have been better used to help create various year-round Junkanoo experiences for tourists and help market Junkanoo internationally, as well as help with the development and promotion of other Bahamian art forms and cultural expressions.
By example, a Junkanoo Cultural Centre with daily rush-outs, opportunities for guests to help paste as they watch the production of costumes, and the ability to purchase locally-made souvenirs such as cowbells and goat skin drums.
There are other expressions of Bahamian music and folklore that may be nurtured and developed, including rake-'n-scrape and other sounds various musicians are creating. The late Eugene Dupuch, famously known as Smokey Joe, applied a violin bow to the smooth edge of a steel saw, creating its own special sound.
There is all manner of Bahamian rhapsody that is possible. But many in the creative economy and small- to medium-scale entrepreneurs in the tourism industry require more encouragement and tangible assistance from state enterprises.
Critical to the success of Singapore and South Korea was an industrial policy in which certain industries and entrepreneurs were encouraged with capital and technical assistance in order to produce various products and services.
Instead of the energy and millions being spent on a Carnival of dubious economic and cultural value, there should be funds better spent to help seed and grow various businesses which may help to diversify our tourism product and services, especially in the areas of Bahamian heritage and culture, better integrating both into the visitor experience year-round.
"A New Direction: Mother & Child III", new work by Jessica and Erin Colebrook, opens today at 10 a.m. at Hillside House. This exhibition ends Friday, May 31. For more information, visithttp://www.antoniusroberts.com.
"Interkosmos", new work by British artists Rory and Ella McCartney, opened Thursday, May 2 at Liquid Courage Galley in Palmdale. The exhibition closes on Thursday, May 30. For more information, visithttps://www.facebook.com/LiquidCourageGallery.
"JAB: A look at Trinidad's Traditional Carnival", paintings by Maria Govan and photos and video installation by Maria Govan and Abigail Hadeed, opened Tuesday, April 30 at Popopstudios International Center for the Visual Arts. This project and exhibition is supported by The D'Aguilar Foundation. For more information, call 322-7834 or visit www.popopstudios.com.
"The John Beadle Project", new work by John Beadle, continues at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. For more information, visit www.nagb.org.bs, email email@example.com or call 328-5800/1.
"Master Artists of The Bahamas" opened Thursday, April 25 at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. Featured Artists are John Beadle, Jackson Burnside, Stan Burnside, John Cox, Amos Ferguson, Kendal Hanna, Brent Malone, Eddie Minnis, Antonius Roberts, Dave Smith and Max Taylor. For more information, visit www.nagb.org.bs, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 328-5800/1.
"life on my island", original patterns and paintings by Fash|Art 2012 Jackson Burnside III Visual Artist Competition Winner Attila Feszt, opens Thursday, June 13 at Doongalik Studios Art Gallery. For more information, visit http://www.doongalik.com/.
"Responsible Faith" continues at The Ladder Gallery, New Providence Community Centre, Blake Road. Artists will paint on 55-gallon metal drums, which will be exhibited and then donated to community parks. The drum covers will be used to create wall art for a permanent collection at The Ladder Gallery. Some will also be sold to benefit ACE Diabetes.
All-star Amateur Artist (AAA) Artwork: "NE6: Kingdom Come" Edition continues at the The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. Amateur artists were asked to create works that relate to the distinct sections, Identity, Spirituality & Balance, Justice, Transformation and Survival.
"SINGLESEX", an all-female portrait show depicting only female subjects, continues at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. NAGB Curator John Cox says it is meant to stand in dialogue with the "Master Artists of The Bahamas" exhibition (later this year), which has no female representation. For more information, visit www.nagb.org.bs, email email@example.com or call 328-5800/1.
The Permanent Exhibition of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, displaying pieces under the theme "The Bahamian Landscape", continues this week at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. Gallery hours: Tue. - Sat. 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.; Sun. noon - 4 p.m. Admission $5 adults; $3 students/seniors; children under 12 are free. For more information, visit www.nagb.org.bs, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 328-5800/1.
New online workshops from the Gaulin Project will begin in May. "A Light Through My Window: Writing the Spiritual Memoir" and "When My Body Speaks" will run from May 6 to June 30. Registration for each workshop is $450. For more information, visit http://helenklonaris.com/the-gaulin-project-upcoming-workshops/ or email Helen Klonaris at email@example.com.
Bahamas Music Conservatory will hold its Summer Music Camp from July 1 to July 26 at the Duke Errol Strachan Music Centre on Village Road. The camp is geared toward young musicians ages eight to 18 and offered instruments are piccolo, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, tuba, viola, cello and double bass. The cost of the workshop is $600. For more information, visitwww.bahamasmusicconservatory.com.
Bahamas FilmInvest International will host the 5th Travelling Caribbean Film Showcase in June at Galleria Cinemas. This year's showcase will feature 29 feature films, documentaries, animations and children's films, with a special tribute being paid to the 40th anniversary of Bahamian independence.
Islandz, having acquired Downtown Art Tours, offers its Islandz Gallery Hop tours, examining art spaces downtown on Saturdays. Tickets are $20 per person for the two-hour tour. For more information or to book tickets, call 601-7592 or visit Islandz online at www.islandzmarket.com.
Tru Bahamian food tours offers a "Bites of Nassau" food tasting and cultural walking tour to connect people with authentic local food items, stories and traditions behind the foods and the Bahamians that prepare and preserve them, through a hands-on, interactive, educational tour and culinary adventure. Tickets are $69 per person, $49 for children under 12. Tours are everyday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., starting at the British Colonial Hilton and ending at Tortuga Rum Cake Company. For more information, visit www.trubahamianfoodtours.com.
Call for works
Family Guardian's annual Calendar Photo Contest is open to all Bahamian photographers, under the theme "A Celebration of Bahamian Pastimes". The deadline for entries is July 12. For more information, visithttp://www.familyguardian.com.
The 10th Annual Bahamas International Film Festival invites filmmakers from around the worls to submit their narratives, documentaries, worls cinema, short films, animation and family films. This year's festival takes place December 5-13 on New Providence and Eleuthera. The deadline is July 17. For more information, visit http://bintlfilmfest.com.
The 30th Annual Central Bank of The Bahamas Art Competition and Exhibition invites entries for its Open Category under the theme "The Independents", in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Bahamian independence, which is being celebrated this year. The objectives of the competition are to identify, recognize and encourage Bahamian visual artists. To qualify, participants must be citizens of The Bahamas, aged 18 or older (as of October 1, 2013) and not registered in secondary school. The Open/Senior Category Competition and Exhibition component will be held from Tuesday, October 1 to Friday, November 1. Artists under 30 years are especially encouraged to embrace this opportunity of the theme of "The Independents" as a challenge in terms of material and/or the role and responsibilities of independent thinking in art in The Bahamas, as well as, thinking of the larger political symbolism of independence of the country.
Lucayan Tropical, a top food producer, is rising to the government's pledge to ban certain imports if the same products can be produced locally.
Tim Hauber, the general manager, said there is "no doubt" his operation could supply the entire country with cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers. And to prove it, the leading agriculturalist will be leading V. Alfred Gray, the minister of agriculture, on a tour of his farm in the next two weeks.
Last month, Gray told Guardian Business that the government will ban or impose high tariffs on any food item that can be produced locally in sufficient quantity, and at the right price.
Hauber believes there is now a renewal of interest and confidence in the industry since those comments.
"There are a handful of products that we could without a doubt supply to the entire country," he told Guardian Business. "At least while they are in season. I can supply all of the country's needs of cucumbers and sweet peppers. Hands down."
The chief at Lucayan Tropical, one of the new food producers in the country, stands as a strong example to others in the sector. The Bahamian food bill has remained persistently high over the years, hovering in the $500 million range, with the vast majority imported from the U.S. or Mexico.
Hauber pointed out that it will take a time to realistically bring the local industry up to a standard that places a noticeable dent in that bill. He encouraged other producers, however, to step up and focus on specific foods.
"The Bahamas is not going to produce its own food. But we need to take key products and get that going well, achieve some profitability, and then you'll see the momentum going," he said. "We don't need to get super theoretical about it. We just need to get that ball rolling."
Calling the minister's latest remarks on the industry "balanced", the top farmer speculated his current weekly production to be 400 cases of cucumbers, 800 cases of colored peppers and 500 cases of tomatoes.
Lucayan Tropical now sells to various supermarkets in the country, as well as hotels, but he said it is still a common sight to see a cucumber from the U.S. or Canada.
Much of the country's produce ends up going unused and wasted, he noted, which is a common source of frustration among farmers.
And that's where Amanda Wells comes in, the agricultural officer at the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation. Her role in the "Buy Fresh. Buy Bahamian" campaign includes collecting data from farmers on what they are producing.
That role will become increasingly important as local food producers attempt to meet the government's expectations, and ultimately, curb the influx of foreign products.
"I am on board with that. If the numbers are good, I would endeavor to do something about it, and submit it to government," she said.
The BAIC now offers free consultation services for would-be and current farmers. Wells encouraged those interested in the industry to stop by, as the organization offers complimentary business plans for those looking to get off the ground.
Gray, the minister of agriculture, has acknowledged that "it's not an easy situation out there".
"So I am certainly willing to do what I can to assist the industry. We have to consider the consumer. If we can't get enough of the product, that's a problem. But I am prepared to consider banning certain things from imports."
AML Foods expects to sign a contract for a second Carl's Jr. restaurant within a "couple of weeks", after "locking in" plans for a total of five locations with the international fast-food chain.
After around two-and-a-half years of planning and a $1.25 million investment, AML Foods opened its first Carl's Jr. to customers on Saturday, located in the parking lot area of Solomon's Super Center, off Robinson Road. The company hired an additional 65 people to staff the restaurant.
AML Foods Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and President Gavin Watchorn said that the company, which owns Solomon's Super Center, Solomon's Fresh Markets and Dominos, is "very confident" the U.S. burger brand will do well for them and their shareholders. The Bahamas operation is Carl's Jr.'s third in the Caribbean and 31st worldwide.
The franchise investment comes as the company is seeking to reduce the proportion of its sales made up by price-controlled grocery items, on which it loses $20,000 a week, noted Watchorn.
It also allows AML Foods to spread fixed costs.
"We have a lot of synergies in our franchise, so we're able to open this without a lot of costs. We have the commissary, so we didn't have to build that. We have a team there, so we didn't have to add to our accounting or HR, so we're now able to take fixed costs and spread them further around the group. This alone contributes to Dominos profitability, because we're now able to take costs from the Dominos system and charge them against Carl's."
While there is obviously major demand in The Bahamas for fast food, some have pointed to the difficulty of opening and sustaining new franchises outside of the traditional favorites: Wendy's, KFC, McDonald's and, to a lesser extent, Burger King.
Given the challenges traditionally seen in making new brands in this sector work in The Bahamas, some local observers have questioned AML Foods' decision to move further into the franchise business, rather than focusing on solidifying its grocery retailing operations, considering the company's greater expertise in the latter area.
Asked about AML Foods' strategy to mitigate this challenge and why Carl's Jr. would be a good brand, Watchorn said: "I think Carl's is the right brand because it's a brand that appeals to young people. It's an exciting brand - a young brand - and we have a very young population who enjoy fun and like to eat out and eat good food. So when we were looking for another franchise business, we came across Carl's, and pretty quickly we thought it would be a good fit with us.
"In terms of businesses coming and going, it's about how you run it. Opening it is the easy part. Actually running it and focusing on the detail is key. We've got a good team and it's managing the numbers and keeping track of what you need to keep track of and acting when you need to. Anyone can open up; it's maintenance, and that's what we have to do."
Watchorn said that increasingly the company's investment will move toward opportunities to reduce its reliance on price-controlled item sales.
"As a business, you have an obligation to provide those goods for your customers, but our investment dollars are going to go towards items that will generate higher returns for us, and this is part of that strategy.
"Therefore, over the medium term, our investments will be focused on projects that will improve our energy efficiencies, improve our store efficiencies and increase our sales, both in food and franchise, in areas that produce higher gross margins."
Ron Coolbaugh, vice president of International Franchise Operations for Carl's Jr., said the company is confident about its decision to enter the Bahamian market.
"The fantastic thing about The Bahamas is that there is a clear demand for quick service burgers. That is very evident. It's very encouraging when you come here and see how much demand there is for such products. It makes The Bahamas an attractive market because there's clearly a demand for the product, and then we're very fortunate to have partners like AML Foods, who are here. They know the food service industry - who are here with Dominos, who are here with markets, who know how to do business here - and they know the retail thing, and they know how to do business in The Bahamas and have that entrepreneurial spirit. So when you combine the strength of The Bahamas as a market and the strength of a great partner, it makes The Bahamas an attractive decision to make."