The website is just the beginning

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The minister responsible for Carnival recently urged everyone to treat the national festival as a serious economic activity.  During the launch of a local mas’ band, Minister of Culture and National Festivals, EP ‘Chet’ Greene said that effort should be put into Carnival as a means of sustaining the economy after the cruise ship season has ended.
The minister stated, “Too often, we see Carnival in the context of a ‘joy wine’ instead of the economy of Carnival which is very important. If you have not internalised that, let me help you to do so. As we enter the month of April, the tourism economy that we all know Antigua & Barbuda to be, is tapering off for the winter season. So, now we have to find things to keep the economy going and to keep persons employed.”
We have always recognised the importance of Carnival as our most important off-season event, and we would hazard a guess and say that most people share that sentiment.  What struck us as odd however, was the fact that as Minister Greene urged the nation to “internalise” that concept, the government seems to be a bit behind in fully adopting the concept itself.
As pointed out by a letter writer from overseas, who is a self-described “Carnival Baby” and counting down the days until they can revel in the sun in costume and lime at night, the government’s online website promotion of the 60th anniversary of Carnival “is a problem”. 
The writer, stated that he/she checks the official www.antiguacarival.com website every day with “much anticipation”, hoping that it would be updated but is consistently disappointed stating, “unfortunately, there is limited and incorrect information displayed even as I write this [letter]”.  He or she asks, “Is this the face we want to show the local and international community?” and adds their bit of frustration, asking, “When will we get it right?”
We decided to head over to the website and see for ourselves whether the criticism was warranted.  After all, we have heard about the government’s big push to improve our online presence and the big talk about social media channels, and the like. 
Unfortunately, it saddens us to report that writer, “Concerned”, did indeed paint an accurate picture of the website.  The banner ad at that top of the page is from 2016.  The main video plastered across the home page still promotes the launch of carnival from March 25.  The ‘Updates’ section, featured below the launch video, alternates between a carnival launch slide and a Miss Antigua & Barbuda 2017 coming soon slide.  If a visitor were to click on that area, and depending on the slide that they hit, they would be transported to an “Events” page that either shows a sole listing for last year’s Liat Caribbean Melting Pot or this year’s launch. Click directly on the “Events” tab and you get nothing at all. 
Naturally, as media people, we clicked on the “Press” tab to see what the government provided to the international press and was greeted by an “Error.  Category not found” banner.  The only press release that we found was a picture of Prime Minister Gaston Browne posing with the original Burning Flames.  We guess that was the only newsworthy event of 2016.
Considering the passion that Minster Greene possesses for the festival and culture as a whole, and his recent pleas for everyone to get on board, we would have thought that such an important link to the world would be in tip-top condition and overflowing with information. It was the minister who so succinctly summarised the festival’s importance, when he said, “This is not anything more than a part of that narrative where Carnival now becomes the single largest economic activity outside of the traditional tourism season. It is where monies change hands – beverage suppliers, clothing stores, taxi drivers, food handlers, whole sale [sellers], traders make money.”
The ‘Concerned’ letter writer asks several valid questions but a couple in particular struck us as being right on the button.  In light of the limited and out-dated information presented on the website, they ask, “… how are revellers and visitors supposed to plan budgets and travels if they are living abroad?”  This was punctuated by “… why so late?”
We bill ourselves as ‘the greatest summer festival’ but if persons are going to do just one Carnival vacation per year, we compete against the entire calendar and many of the host countries are doing a way better job than we are at promoting ourselves online.  As “Concerned” rightfully points out and asks, “As a tourist, I would book travel to other more organised carnivals. What does that mean for Antigua? Lost revenue; soiled reputation and a major lull in participation for revellers if they cannot figure out when and where things are happening.”
There is not much else that can be said as it is obvious that this needs to be fixed; sooner rather than later.  Be that as it may, we will end on a positive note and let people know that it is not all doom and gloom as far as our online promotional efforts go.  We visited the Facebook site and that seems to be up-to-date and better maintained.  Hopefully, the online audience will not judge us by our website and will seek other sources for information.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.
 

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