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Go to France, Tidco

By Terry Joseph
May 24, 2000

IT WOULD have cost the Tourism and Industrial Development Company (Tidco) a helluva lot less than the $70.2 million it frittered away exactly one year ago this week, if the company had included on its list of monthly joyrides last weekend's European Pan Festival.

By this time last year, loud noises of discontent had begun to come from vendors who had set up shop at the cultural village in the Queen's Park Savannah, taxi drivers, hoteliers, airlines and other business concerns; all of whom had been taken in by bountiful promises.

To put it mildly, the Miss Universe Pageant was a fiasco. The floating hotels did not come. They evidently took their contingent of passengers to some other place where there was a guarantee of more sensible inhabitants.

In fact, for far less than the $6 million price tag of Tidco's second major boo-boo, the poorly attended World Beat Music Festival held last October, the company could have purchased a significant presence at last weekend's Pan Festival.

I suppose it was what the geniuses down at Phillip Street would term in their doublespeak jargon: "strategic placement for a selected public", but the drip-mats, posters and booklets strewn under two Tidco posters served no greater purpose than that of coasters for people wishing to rest down drinking glasses.

Pan Kultur, a German steelband had mounted a photo exhibition of its experiences, which commanded attention and members of that organisation were on hand to exchange information with interested persons.

Pan European also mounted a conference on Saturday night at the adjacent Holiday Inn to discuss pan development and research.

Among the speakers was Felix Rohner of the Panart organisation in Berne, Switzerland, and Trinidadian Dr Clement Imbert, a University of the West Indies engineer, whose trip was funded by that institution. Even there, not a poster from Trinidad and Tobago made it to the walls.

Meanwhile, across the grounds of the sprawling Parc de la Villette a dozen steel orchestras from England and Europe came together for Le Premier Festival Europeen du Steelpan, a free two-day concert and contest, staged by Pan European. The contest was put on to select the three bands that will attend the finals of the World Steelband Music Festival, due to be held here in October.

Most of the bands seized the opportunity to set up downstream merchandising tents, offering T-shirts and other memorabilia to a clientele already converted to the very pan that has been agreed as one of our most easily identifiable export products.

An estimated 15,000 people attended the Paris event over the two days, many of them boldly approaching anyone whose badge identified them as being from this country to find out more about what we call the national musical instrument.

But we positioned no central authority to piggyback on that level of obvious interest or use the same space to introduce other commodities and investment facilities available in Trinidad and Tobago. Compare that approach now, to last year's swashbuckling financial adventures by Tidco.

Remember too that the Miss Universe Pageant was described from as early as October 1998, as having the potential to put this country on the map and offer business opportunities to the small man.

Nor can we forget the poorly attended World Beat Music Festival, which has left us with nothing but promises of residual benefits. A compilation disc, which Tidco said would help to recover the staggering cost of that investment, due on the shelves of music stores "before Christmas 1999"; is yet to materialise.

Perhaps Prime Minister Basdeo Panday should have been there to see for himself, how that large sampling of the European community feels about this indigenous instrument, since I do not trust the instincts or initiatives of any of his Cabinet Ministers to push pan (except perhaps for Mr Kuei Tung).

But it may be that the Cabinet and by extension, Tidco is responding to anxieties expressed in certain quarters of the East Indian community, that pan should afford its own global marketing programme. It is a thought steeped in tribalism that exudes no feel for the national value of furthering the fortunes of the instrument and its music.

In any event, the European Pan Festival was a wake up call missed by those in charge of marketing this country.

Perhaps before making another ill-advised investment (like the scaled down version of the World Beat Festival it plans to stage next October) Tidco should just go to France.

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