Crop Over truly gone international
The idea for the Crop Over Festival, the signature event on Barbados’ cultural and entertainment activities calendar, was conceptualized back in the early 1970s, during the administration of the late Prime Minister National Hero The Right Excellent Errol Barrow, to give a much needed boost to tourist arrivals which, at the time, experienced a slump during the summer months.
Drawing on the island’s rich history and heritage, the project involved reviving an age-old plantation-based celebration which used to take place at the end of the annual sugar crop, adding a modern flavour and developing it into an exciting national event with mass participation that would give tourists a strong desire to come.
From those humble beginnings, Crop Over has grown by leaps and bounds. It is a success story, having reached a level of development today where it can be truly said that the festival’s appeal has gone beyond the Caribbean and has achieved global recognition. What is the evidence? The growing number of people from all social strata, especially high-profile celebrities, who are flocking to Barbados every year to take part in the festivities.
For the celebrities in particular, given their hectic year-round schedules, Crop Over seems to provide welcome therapy by offering an opportunity to unwind, largely away from the spotlight, through taking in the various events, but especially partying on the road with locals on Kadooment Day. This year, the festival was graced again by the presence of our own international star Rihanna, and for the first time reigning Formula One motor racing champion Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton, British-born of Grenadian parentage, got his first taste of Barbados a year ago when he thrilled motor racing enthusiasts at the Top Gear Festival at Bushy Park. From published photographs in the various media, Hamilton had a jolly good time partying on the streets Kadooment Day in the company of Rihanna, and mingling with Barbadians.
Afterwards, he was photographed on social media enjoying the beautiful sea for which Barbados is well known. The presence of such well-known global personalities give a strong endorsement to Crop Over and Barbados that represents a big plus for the international marketing of the island, not only for tourism purposes but also as an ideal domicile for doing business.
When asked to comment on their Barbados experience, visiting celebrities unhesitatingly speak of having a great time and being made to feel welcome, as do our other guests. Naturally, when such glowing comments appear in the international media and also on their social media sites, they serve to create a favourable image of Barbados in the minds of their listening, reading and viewing audiences. It is a priceless gift.
Imagine the additional benefits through their spreading the word about Barbados directly within in their social circles through word of mouth, which is the most effective form of advertising. What is this saying to us? That we have something special to offer because visitors constantly report that they find Barbados such an appealing place that they definitely want to come back. It is something that we, Barbadians, should be proud of, appreciate and also fully enjoy ourselves.
Perhaps the time has come for Government, in collaboration with the private sector, or it could be the other way around, to consider establishing a formal network bringing together celebrity visitors and other global personalities of influence in order to tap more effectively into the tremendous goodwill they have for the island. The network could be called, for example, the Global Friends Of Barbados.
Many countries, with far greater resources, have effectively used such networks to their advantage. Given the economic challenges facing Barbados, the limited resources at our disposal, and the imperative to explore every opportunity with potential to support the growth of our economy, we have to be creative in our approaches to maximize opportunities at our disposal.
Crop Over 2015 was a resounding success. With better planning and some innovation, Crop Over 2016 can be even bigger, better, and more appealing. Some worthwhile suggestions have already been put forward. For example, well-known entertainer and MC Mac Fingall has suggested that an event in celebration of spouge music should be introduced. Spouge, which is uniquely Barbadian, was extremely popular in the 1960s and 1970s before going into decline.
It is important, however, that Crop Over retains its Barbadian character despite changes which have to be made from time to time. Crop Over is our unique gift to the world, and retaining its Barbadian character is necessary for differentiation from other Caribbean festivals. The organizers deserve kudos for a job well done as we look forward to a better and more successful Crop Over 2016!