[ATLANTA] – The Caribbean’s vibrant cultural and creative sector is critical to the region’s economic footprint. And, the creation of employment opportunities. Unfortunately, this has been one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. With venue-based activities and related supply chains most adversely affected.
Additionally, because of the non-traditional nature of business models and employment contracts, this sector has been left out of many national recovery programs and policies. But to thrive post-pandemic, the Caribbean must find ways to leverage its creative assets. Plus to rebuild, reimagine and strengthen communities throughout the region.
Rebuilding a More Resilient Cultural Webinar
Last Thursday, Caribbean Weddings and Events Professionals (CWEP) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) hosted a webinar. The theme of the webinar: “Rebuilding a More Resilient Cultural and Creative Economy to Withstand Covid-19”. This initiative assembled a group of leading Caribbean event planners and promoters. The group discussed key issues emanating from the social and economic impacts of the pandemic. They discussed the current state of the industry and explored interventions to develop a comprehensive regional recovery strategy.
Rebuilding a More Resilient Cultural Panelists
- Natalie John – Founder of CWEP, Moderator
- Scott Dunn – Managing Director, Dream Entertainment Ltd.
- Nicholas Rasinski a.k.a. DJ Nico
- Lyndale James – Oaktreez Inc.
- Thierry Reynaud – Co-Founder, Karukera One Love
- Shannon Hawley – Chairperson of St Kitts National Carnival Committee
COVID-19 Protocols Guide for Weddings and Events
The discussion was moderated by CWEP Founder, Natalie John. Her organization was formed during the pandemic. Formed in an effort to create a space for wedding and event planners to network and share ideas.
As a regional champion for the events industry, John recently released her first book “COVID-19 Protocols Guide for Weddings and Events”. The book outlines standard advice for event planners in making necessary risk assessments during the pandemic. In collaboration with the OECS, John hopes that the group’s ideas can be amalgamated to strengthen advocacy efforts. Especially in lobbying governments, CARICOM and other regional entities.
“As Caribbean people, we know how to adapt. Events will continue, despite COVID and we in the industry, must come together to find ways to get our voices heard and our message out,” said Natalie John.
As Caribbean countries begin to reopen for business activity, there is widespread disenchantment among event organizers and promoters about being left out of the reopening plans and support programs. Known for their resilience and creativity, they have already begun to collaborate to identify innovative ideas to mitigate against a myriad of challenges in the industry.
Hope on the Horizon
As vaccination policies are being rolled out, these stewards of the events industry are hopeful that governments will be receptive to new ideas to help fast track the economic recovery.
Government Support Needed
- “With government support, financially and otherwise, St. Kitts hosted its first 6-week virtual Carnival last December. We were able to promote our brand which was virtually unknown. This format provided an opportunity to build interest in our 50th Anniversary celebrations in 2021. We saw significant viewership and interest from many islands, because of the void in the entertainment industry at that time of year. The support from the government has really made a difference and we received hundreds of thousands of views from new audiences in new markets, and that was really encouraging.” – Shannon Hawley – Chairperson of St Kitts National Carnival Committee.
- “In the French territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe the government has provided some assistance, but they can do much more. Events companies seeking assistance can publish a report from 2020 to show the impact of the pandemic on their finances, on a central government website. The assistance provided is based on the company’s estimated loss of revenues. We got about $10,000 which is only about 2% of our total our losses. It is not enough support, but it is something. We had to bring together a team to get these stats together to estimate the impact of the pandemic on the economy and it is this type of information that will help make a difference.” said Thierry Reynaud – Co-Founder, Karukera One Love.
- “When COVID hit, promoters and party producers had to pivot to livestreaming as a way to remain relevant and keep our brand visible. I have done some online assignments, but it has been barely enough for me to stay afloat and provide for my family. Things are a little better in 2021 and we are focused on what can we do creatively to rebuild the industry,” said DJ Nico.
Entertainment Industry Revenues
- “Although it is estimated that the entertainment industry contributes close to 9% to Jamaica’s GDP, the government has not given one dollar to help the events industry. My company has had to borrow to survive and this is not sustainable. Governments don’t give enough credence to the economic impact of festivals and events and their ability to drive a new type of tourism. It takes a team of professionals to plan, build, execute and clean up after an event. Unfortunately we are struggling under the current gathering restrictions,” said Scott Dunn, Dream Weekend.
Entertainment Industry Guidelines Needed
- “We are seeing successful events happening around the world with clear guidelines and scaled-down formats as the numbers go down, but unfortunately the Caribbean is not open to how this can be done successfully here and we are losing business. I began to do many livestreamed events, but I am challenged with how we improve and monetize them, and include them as part of the product to offer year round entertainment, when live events return. We expect a surge, once events return, so we need to build capacity, especially in event production.” – Lyndale James, CEO of Oaktreez Inc.
Safe Ways to Move Forward
All panelists agree that 2000 was projected to be a landmark year. By nurturing the cultural and creative sector, it can lead to a future rebound in the economy. Many event promoters and producers have become more educated in risk management protocols. They have crafted novel safety standards for the industry. As a result they can host events responsibly, while keeping patrons healthy.
- “There are safe ways to move forward, but governments must be willing to listen to our suggestions for best practices. They must acknowledge that there is a way for us to earn a living in a safe manner. We are the only major industry that has no safety guidelines. And, we have been totally excluded from the reopening plans,” Scott Dunn.
Key Takeaways from Leading Caribbean Event Planners and Promoters
- With proper support, cultural and creative entrepreneurship can become catalysts of new models of economic and social value creation. Governments must engage all key players in the sector. In addition, ensure that sufficient resources are allocated to deploy effective support programs.
- COVID-19 relief programs must take into consideration that small businesses and entrepreneurs in event planning and production, typically have non-traditional business models and employment contracts.
- Include event businesses in the national dialogue to leverage their creativity and out-of the box-thinking to develop policy measures that meet their needs. Tap into event organizers’ knowledge, leadership and resilience to identify new ways of hosting events and gatherings safely. Explore new event formats that allow for proper screening and protection against COVID. For example, the concept of including COVID testing as part of the cost/benefits of all-inclusive fetes. Or, hosting “vax only” events or “vax VIP” events.
- Ensure that there is proper data collection. Helping to better understand and gauge how these businesses impact the economy and the effects on supply chain linkages.
- Use of financial incentives. Incentives such as a tax credit or access to a loan or capital, to fund small businesses and entrepreneurs. As a result this will help these businesses rebound more quickly.
- In parallel with income and business support measures, governments must be willing to invest in cultural production to help the sector rebound after the crisis. By engaging creative minds, it will help drive innovation around products, services and new ways of working.
- Invest in the digital infrastructure that can amplify advances in the cultural and creative sector. This by prioritizing digital training, access, and connectivity, to build greater digital capacity within the arts.