Over on The Bahamas Weekly, a story’s running that announces the release of the fourteen films commissioned by the Ministry of Tourism as part of this year’s marketing campaign for The Bahamas.
For those of you who don’t know, or don’t remember, this campaign has come under considerable fire from local filmmakers, photographers and other artists.
The films are now all finished, and if they’re all like the teaser, they’ll be interesting to watch. There’s no doubt that the idea is a brilliant one from the point of view of marketing The Bahamas The question remains, though: was the campaign ill-conceived from the point of view of Bahamians?
The discussion so far seems to be generating more heat than light. The Ministry of Tourism certainly seems to have gone on the defensive about it. “We are surprised,” said a press statement early in February, “at the criticism that has been directed at this promotion.” And that bemusement is further developed:
It would certainly have made headlines in The Bahamas if, instead of devising a search among Britain’s young film makers to be selected to come to The Bahamas to shoot, we’d announced that we were selecting 14 of our own people to shoot promotional videos of their country to show in Britain, but it would have had minimal impact in Britain. Aside from the interest British citizens will have in the output of their own young film makers, their output is likely to be perceived as more credible than material produced by Bahamians about their own country.
There’s a whole lot more in this vein, all supporting the idea of breaking into the UK market, attracting attention from the British, widening the tourist net, etc, etc. And the arguments are all good ones. I can’t take issue with them: the attention of BAFTA, the attraction of British sponsorship, the penetration of the British population by appearances in British cinemas, and so on.
But here’s my problem.
I have no doubt whatsoever that this campaign will get the people here. None at all. The British will come as a result of this campaign. And in the short run, it’ll be deemed a success, just like so many marketing campaigns run by the Ministry of Tourism.
But will it last?
I’m going to argue that the likelihood of it lasting is very slim, and the key to that argument is contained in the Ministry’s defensive statement. It’s the idea that lies at the heart of the way in which the Bahamian government spends its money: “their output is likely to be perceived as more credible than material produced by Bahamians about their own country.”
The government of The Bahamas, no matter its colour, stripe or initials, in the end, has absolutely no confidence in the people of The Bahamas to do anything of worth. And because of that, governnment funds, whether collected from the taxpayers or borrowed from some international agency, are almost never invested in projects that will do more than maintain the aging status quo in our economy and our society — tens of millions on the dredging and redredging of our harbour, more tens of millions on the construction of new roads, more contracts with concessions to multinational resorts to come in and “provide jobs” for the least productive among us, more maintenance of inequalities, more skewing of the local GNP by collecting the uber-wealthy to hike up our collective numbers while not doing a whole lot fresh and new to spark economic activity that is indigenous, reproducible, sustainable, resilient. As a result, we spend waste a whole lot of money on packaging and distribution and invest virtually nothing in the product itself.
Because the 14 filmmakers challenge could’ve done exactly what it’s doing now with a different spin. It could’ve got the same mileage — or more — by incorporating Bahamians into the equation. Rather than assuming — and stating that assumption publicly! — that Bahamian work is “less credible” than UK work in Britain, the Ministry of Tourism could have spent the same investment on a competition between young Bahamian filmmakers and young UK filmmakers. It could’ve invested not only in the advertising of The Bahamas — in the packaging and the distribution of the product — but in the improvement of the product as well, with the goal not only to raise awareness in Britain of The Bahamas and its existence, but also to generate some respect for the people of The Bahamas at the same time. Because it’s respect and love and curiosity that keep people coming back, and the hospitality that comes from being respected — not more pretty pictures and stereotypes of “native” activity, no matter how well packaged, how cleverly distributed, how brilliantly conceived the idea.