Now that Carnival is safely done for this year, perhaps it’s time to revisit that old debate about its economic benefits for the country, and specifically money from carnival visitors.
For a start, dump that nonsense about Carnival generating $1 billion TT.
One letter to the editor in the Trinidad express of January 4, 2023 claimed, “The economic impact through tourist spending alone is in the region of $1 billion. According to the CSO, in January and February 2020 (when Carnival was last staged), Trinidad and Tobago benefited from a total of 78,148 tourist arrivals, with the average expenditure by each visitor being $12,101, over an average stay of 12 days.”
That would indeed total $945 million, a very handy figure compared to Trinidad government expenditure of roughly $150 million a year.
But there is a problem. That is a lie.Many in Trinidad and abroad believe that. I am not one of them.
Culture minister Gadsby Dolly has said that for one year 2018 the country saw 33,873 visitors who spent an average of $9416, giving a total of $318,948,168. Government budget for Carnival was $147 million for that year.
That would mean the net income for TT would be $318 million visitor spending minus $147 million expenditure, or $171 million, a very long way from $1 billion.
Even that assumption that the 33, 873 visitors were tourists who each spent an average $9416 on hotel accommodation and entertainment, is also wrong. I believe Trinidad has no more than 5,000 hotel rooms. So where did the 28,873 others stay and how much did they spend?
You get it now. They were Trinis coming home for the carnival and staying with relatives or friends. They were not spending money on hotel rooms, usually the biggest part of visitor spending or on restaurant meals or travel with taxis, which would amount to two thirds of foreign visitor spending or about $6,000 of the $9416. The Trinis returning home would spend roughly $3,000 each.
So to summarize, the visitors in the 5,000 rooms spent 5000 x 9416 or $47 million. The local Trinis 28, 873 of them spending $3,000 each would generate $86 million. Total spending for carnival that year would be the 86 million plus the 47 million or $133 million.
So if in 2018 government spending was $147 million and carnival spending by visitors in hotel and private homes was $133 million, then the country saw a net loss of $14 million. Not a $1 billion gain.
I don’t know why nobody has challenged that $1 billion fairy tale or noted that Trinidad has only 5,000 hotel rooms before. Maybe now the economists will wake up.