The Sunday Mail
Whilst it is an undeniable fact that carnivals have become a major driver of economic growth across the globe, some are sceptical on whether there are any financial gains from the local carnival. Granted, some of the benefits of such carnivals need not be in monetary terms, carnivals also help in image perception and brand building.
Some tourism players contacted last week could not readily avail figures of tourist arrivals during last year’s carnival.
The financial gains from the famed Rio carnival in Brazil last year was estimated to be around US$2,9 billion in total revenue. The samba annual pilgrimage attracted more than 6,9 million people, half of which came from outside Brazil.
Furthermore, the celebration of diversities in culture, race, belief and ethnicity has become a major source of cultural tourism, attracting millions of people to the South American country for the annual pilgrimage.
Zimbabwe had its trial run last year when it held a six-day culture and dance fiesta.
The inaugural carnival saw a total of 9 000 groups from across 17 countries taking part. The carnival was organised at the tune of about US$1 million, which is a generous amount that is a worthwhile investment when it comes to upstream and downstream benefits, according to Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) chief executive officer Mr Karikoga Kaseke.
Officially opening last year’s carnival, Vice-President Joice Mujuru said the local version of the carnival had immense potential to become an economic game changer.
“The local version has the potential to reap positive rewards if it is given the necessary support from both the Government and the corporate world. As we focus on destination image transformation, and as we strive to market Zimbabwe globally, it is important that we employ such strategies as the staging of these mega events like we are doing with this carnival,” she said.
Last week, ZTA head of corporate affairs Mr Sugar Chagonda said although the inaugural carnival was not flawless, it had managed to achieve a lot. He said the carnival was not only a destination marketing tool, but was also a platform to bring different cultures in from within and outside the country, with an objective to celebrate diversity.
“Carnivals are a unifying force among the people who will be celebrating their uniqueness. When there is unity there is development in a country. We are carrying the same theme for three editions (last year’s, this year’s and next year’s) of the event because we realised a need for Zimbabweans to celebrate what differentiates them from the rest of the world,” he said.
Mr Chagonda, however, noted that the mega event that was still in its infancy had long-term benefits that cannot be realised instantly.
“The first edition attracted a reasonable response that resulted in countries like Trinidad and Tobago, among others, wanting to be part of our carnival. This year’s edition has already attracted 23 countries, a number of which are paying for their own expenses, (accommodation, travel and so on) in turn boosting our tourism receipts,” he said.
He added that carnivals were an essential marketing strategy for the country and they need to be embraced and further developed.
“Tourism in Zimbabwe had somewhat tumbled over the last decade. It is through events like Sanganai/Hlanganani, A’sambeni, carnivals and other destination marketing strategies that we have managed to resuscitate it,” he added.
A carnival involves performances of various kinds. Dress codes usually mark the event.
Around the world, carnivals have become linkages between traditional knowledge, culture, art and the economy.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, the carnival industries of Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, and Trinidad and Tobago, for example, contribute significantly to the cultural and economic life of these countries.
The carnivals provide for a concentration of live and recorded performance activity in music and dance that is considerably culturally significant for both domestic and international audiences.
The festivals generate cultural value for local people who can enjoy their country’s traditional costumes, music, dance and rituals in an engaging communal context, and they project the cultural identities of the countries onto the international stage.
The carnivals, however, carry a different meaning in the world: the Caribbean Carnival is the creative and artistic expression of dispossessed people and it has been celebrated over the years to mark the end of slavery.
The big question is: do we as Zimbabweans understand the reasons behind these carnivals? When we host them, is it not just a time for different people to celebrate and parade, combining some elements of a circus, mask and public street party?
The bottom line, nevertheless, is that Zimbabwean culture is different and we must always celebrate that fact.