Hodge-Smith Addresses Music Fest 2024; Rotimi Among Headliners

The Hon. Luce D. Hodge Smith Junior Minister for Culture and Tourism Press Conference BVI Music Fest 2024 22 March, 2024

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(PLTM) - A pleasant good day to all the beautiful people of the Virgin Islands, and especially the members of the media who are present with us.

I recognize the protocols already established.

The main thrust of my message today, is that we have a lot to gain as a Territory by coming together and working together to ensure that initiatives that stand to benefit the Virgin Islands do benefit the Virgin Islands. We cannot afford to lose opportunities or to squander opportunities, either for lack of effort or because of personal or political differences.

If something can benefit the Virgin Islands, then as people who want the best for our country, we need to come together and try to make sure it succeeds as best as possible.

We have been hearing for a long time that the tourism market is becoming increasingly competitive. And it became even more competitive after the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of other countries and islands have stepped up their tourism product development and marketing.

The BVI has a unique product that has historically enjoyed high demand. But many of our competitors are actively marketing to the same visitors that we have been relying on for business. Some of those destinations can offer the sun, sand and sea experience. Some of them have beautiful waters for diving and sailing, and picturesque reefs. But they are also able to offer additional attractions – whether it is eco-tourism adventures, or cultural experiences, and so forth.

So – and we have been saying this from Day-1 – we in the BVI cannot sit back and pretend is it business as usual. We have to re-assess our product and our offerings. We have to look at how we are packaging our offerings. How can we give it a new flavor or a new twist, so that the returning visitor feels that his second or twentieth visit is even better and more exciting than the last visit?

We have to look at what new attractions we can add to complement those that we already have.

The BVI has a great product that has served us – and continues to serve us - faithfully and well. But by further developing our product and creating new attractions, we can open up avenues for increasing our visitor arrivals and encourage visitors to spend more money in our Territory, which increases the economic opportunities for our local entrepreneurs and businesses, especially those that are engaged directly and indirectly in tourism related businesses.

If I could put it another way, this year, our total tourist arrivals are projected to cross 1 million guests. Over the past several years, apart from those years that were affected by COVID-19 and the 2017 hurricanes, our cruise arrivals fluctuated around 500,000 persons and peaked to about 699,000 persons in 2016. Overnighters fluctuated around 400,000. Day-trippers fluctuated around 16,000 to 17,500. This is the trend when we look at the figures for several years. If we want to keep those numbers climbing – and keeping the revenues climbing; to keep growing the opportunities for business for taxi and tour operators, hotels, restaurants, bars, and all our other businesses – we need to keep developing our product. We need to keep improving and adding to our attractions.

As the Premier has said on prior occasions, the Government is working to expand our tourism industry. We are working to revive the BVI’s presence in the market as a venue or destination for Meetings, Conferences, Events and so forth. Music Fest is one initiative in this regard.

Music festivals and live performances have a significant impact on local economies and tourism. The benefits extend beyond the immediate revenue generated from ticket sales. The impacts on the local economy and community can go much deeper. Overall, these types of events serve as catalysts for economic growth, attracting tourists, stimulating local businesses, and enhancing the overall image and appeal of a destination.

Economic benefits include: creating an array of economic opportunities for local businesses. They generate revenue through ticket sales, food and beverage sales, merchandise sales, and sponsorships, among others. This leads to increased job creation, higher government revenues, and overall economic growth.

Music festivals attract visitors from far and wide. People may travel to a destination specifically to attend a music festival or concert performance. I think we are all familiar with how our economy and our businesses benefit from increased tourism activity.

Hosting successful music festivals and similar activities helps to enhance a destination's image and reputation. It profiles the destination as a vibrant cultural hub and a place to have a good time. This can attract further investment and development opportunities. Positive experiences during these events increase word-of-mouth promotion, which encourages more persons to visit the destination in the future.

As these kinds of events grow they require and encourage infrastructural development. Keep in mind the social and economic benefits contribute to the resources required to effect this development. Infrastructural development can include construction of new venues, better public transportation systems, road upgrades, and development of capabilities for managing major events. These contribute to the long-term development of the country.

Events such as music festivals encourage community engagement and civic pride. They provide a platform to showcase our communities, our artistes, our talents, our food, our culture, and all the wonderful things about our destination. They also strengthen community bonds as people work together to present the country in the best light.

Music fest will provide an opportunity for our local artistes to get exposure. Persons who are drawn in by the international acts will also get a taste of BVI talent and culture. Similarly, this will also provide promotion for our destination.

One of the headline performers, Rotimi, who is a Nigerian-American actor and singer, has an Instagram following of over 4 million persons. He has over 1 million Youtube followers. This is just one performer – and the potential audience we can be exposed to. Keep in mind that his music touches the genres of R&B, traditional Afrobeat and dancehall, which has wide appeal globally. Freddie Jackson is a legendary R&B artist who ruled the airwaves in the late eighties and early nineties. He also has a fan base that we may be able to appeal to as well.

Some persons would recall that in the 2000’s we used to have Music Fest which was an anticipated event on the BVI calendar. We used to have very popular international artistes alongside local performers, and we attracted decent crowds. We stopped having the event. Many of the neighbouring destinations host music festivals. Some perform very well, and some are growing in popularity. So, those destinations have added to their tourism offering.

Secondly, and this goes back to the point of developing the product and developing the brand, brand development does not occur in one go. You build a reputation over time. Word spreads about how good your event is over time.

And a good example of that is Coachella. The first Coachella was in 1999. It was in a unique and unusual venue – a desert. The attendance was about 37,000 and the organizers reportedly saw a loss of $1 million. Coachella is now a multi-week event, that drew over 125,000 persons per day in 2023. It is now one of the most anticipated and prestigious events, and a huge commercial success. It took them four Coachella events over five years before they saw a profit, and turned into a worldwide interest.

I am not comparing the BVI and our Music Fest to Coachella, or any other event, but the point is that events – if properly executed and managed – have the potential to grow into very lucrative opportunities.

And on that note, I once again reiterate my call for us to all work together to make Music Fest and all our tourism products enjoyable to our visitors, and to all contribute to their success. When our tourism efforts succeed, our entire country benefits.

I thank you.

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