International Risk Management: Safeguarding Intellectual Property Rights

International risk management is the mechanism by which individuals and entities  engaging in cross-border trade in goods and services assess and handle the possibilities of threats to their businesses.  As a result, the level of risk will vary depending on the entity, its trading partners and the physical commercial space in which it operates.

The possibility of loss due to external influences is a reality faced by all businesses no matter their size and the more familiar of these range from unfavourable weather conditions, unstable financial environments and disturbed political climates.  It is extremely important to understand that trading in international markets requires some long term planning.  One must truly seek to make oneself aware of the risks to be managed in the new environment by carrying out the appropriate feasibility studies and really “getting into the nitty-gritty” of not only the advantages but also what could go wrong.

The protection of intellectual property rights (‘IPRs’) is an area of business that is many times still avoided by the business community.  Some cite the cost of applying to register trademarks and industrial designs in each jurisdiction as a deterrent, as IPRs are territorial and therefore registration in one country does not necessarily mean that your rights in another country are protected.  Other concerns expressed are the time it takes to complete registration as some processes are notoriously slow and in some countries it may take as long as three years for a certificate of registration to be issued.

In spite of the foregoing reasons for apprehension, which are indeed legitimate, it is imperative in today’s world that one’s IPRs should be protected at all costs.  Imagine the potential money, brand goodwill and reputation and business opportunities which may be lost in the discovery of counterfeit goods?  While in the Caribbean we are aware of the phenomenon of fake goods being sold on the streets and in the stores of many popular areas of the United States, especially those frequented by tourists, those instances are not unique to that country.  Within the last year stories about police raids and court cases from Jamaica and Barbados made headlines, particularly in the latter country, where mega-star Rihanna’s uncle was found guilty of selling counterfeit PUMA Fenty by Rihanna slippers!

So what should a business person do, especially if cash flow is not as robust as desired.  Let us focus on trademarks and industrial designs.  It is suggested that as soon as possible following the establishment of a business, an application should be made to  register the trade or service mark(s) (design and words) in the country of origin.  This also applies to any industrial designs which are unique to your product and which you wish to safeguard. This will ensure immediate protection in the first country in which business is done.  Secondly, carefully consider the countries to which you wish to export your goods and/or services and seek legal assistance within those countries to assist with the process.  Do your homework.  Take some time researching these external countries and seek assistance if necessary in determining whether your logo or name are culturally aware and if translated, do not offend.  Also, do not hold slavishly to a particular name or logo, have a few variations ready as a registry search may reveal that the trademark or design which is dear to your heart is already in use by a well established brand.

Another consideration is that of the requirement in some jurisdictions to prove that the trademark or industrial design will be used within a specific time period.  The idea is that “empty” applications which block the flow of legitimate commerce should not be allowed to “clog” the system.  This is therefore another consideration for entities seeking protection in as many countries as possible as in the future a company may have to face the reality that another entity was able to register a similar trademark or industrial design by the time the first company’s product is finally ready to be marketed in the desired country.

The bottom line is, with the plethora of potential risks floating around the international trading space, the protection of IPRs should be paramount to the management of risk in an ever-changing and ever-hostile business world.


Overcoming Challenges to the Sustainability of our Tourism Model

According to the joint publication entitled, “Tourism and Trade”, a Global Agenda for Sustainable Development”, which was published in 2015, international tourism accounted for 30% of global trade in services.  Moreover, tourism is the main export of approximately one-third of developing countries, with Barbados falling into this category.  The paper goes on to state that “Tourism…has a key role to play in maximising the contribution of trade in services to development, job creation, and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (‘SDGs’)”.

The business of tourism is an important player in the sphere of international trade in services.  It is multi-sectoral and in a country such as Barbados, touches and concerns almost every aspect of society, from job creation and the maintenance thereof, to the cleanliness of the environment and the sale of goods.  What does this mean for Barbados and how do we fit into an increasingly competitive sector?  It has been written that tourism is expected to continue expanding and as stated in the World Tourism Organization’s publication, “Tourism Towards 2030”, tourism arrivals would reach 1.8 billion by 2030 (5 million per day).  Additionally, emerging economies are expected to see an increase of their share to 57% by 2030.

These are some impressive numbers but again, what does it mean for Barbados?  What is the industry’s contribution to the country’s GDP?  The World Travel & Tourism Council reported that in 2017, the direct contribution of Travel & Tourism to GDP was US$608.3 million or 13% of total GDP, which was an increase over the previous year.  More specifically, in May 2017 former Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados, Dr. DeLisle Worrell stated that tourism was the largest earner of foreign exchange, contributing 49% of same to the economy.  These figures show that the sector remains a significant earner for Barbados.

The question is, could we improve?  Do we need to?  The simple answer is yes, there is always room for improvement, particularly in a highly competitive region.  The cries are numerous.  One hears rumblings that Barbados is an expensive destination and that the tourists are arriving in droves but are spending less.  Is there truth to these statements?  According to the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017 of the World Economic Forum, Barbados ranks at number 58 out of 136 countries on the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index (Barbados was ranked at number 41 in the 2015 report).  Countries obtaining a higher listing include Greece, France, Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico, some of which have similar tropical environments.  Positively, Barbados ranks at number 8 for prioritisation of travel and tourism, with only Jamaica as an island in the Caribbean region ranking above it at number 6.

Moreover, Barbados was ranked at 134 out of 136 for price competitiveness, followed only by the United Kingdom and Switzerland, which are notoriously expensive destinations.  Also striking was that Barbados was ranked at 123rd for cultural resources and business travel.  From an international point of view, therefore, improvements can be made.  While we focus on increasing the hotel complement and maintaining our natural resources of sand and sea (not much can be done about the sun, although so far we haven’t been disappointed), some of our attractions as a “high-end” destination have floundered, save for a vibrant restaurant industry.

The majority of tourists who come to these shores originate from the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, the United Kingdom being the region with the most historical ties to the island.  We have laid a foundation as the hideaway of persons of wealth and the properties on the west coast can attest to that fact.  However, what of the modern tourist?  The wealthy traveler still comes to Barbados and remains a repeat visitor but what of attempts to attract millenial tourists or young professionals who might otherwise travel to a less expensive and extremely popular locale such as Costa Rica, Santorini or Mykonos?

An opinion was expressed by Executive Director and Professor of Strategy at the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business that Barbados lacked attractions beyond its natural resources, which was causing it to falter badly when compared with international competitors.  On a positive note, Barbados remains known not only for its beaches and favourable tropical climate, but for Harrison’s Cave, Oistins Bay Garden, Kensington Oval, the recently opened Nikki Beach Barbados, Welchman Hall Gully, Andromeda Botanic Gardens and its palate-pleasing array of restaurants from roadside vendors and food trucks to fine dining restaurants.  However, are these ‘places of interest’ diverse enough?  Do they need to be?  Recent history will show that we have seen the demise of out-of-the-box attractions such as Ocean Park, Aerial Trek and Oughterson Zoo.  Further, a number of years ago a resounding NO was the response to whether casinos should be opened on the island and a plan for a water theme park never came to fruition.

This brings us to the question of whether our tourist attractions need to journey beyond the current offerings.  The simple answer is yes.  It is not enough to record extremely high tourist arrivals but not record a commensurate level of spending by the visitor.  The good news is that our island has started on the path of diversification, with one of the major success stories being the Barbados Fertility Center, which has brought many hopeful mothers and parents to these shores, including a celebrity or two.  However, Barbados currently lacks a vibrant nightlife in Bridgetown, the capital and UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are many derelict buildings in and about Bridgetown, including what used to be the Empire Theatre, there are no theme parks and some of our major historical buildings which could be used for tours are catching dust.

It is true that we have been promoting our festivals (Crop Over, the Vujaday Music Festival, Animekon, polo and Sandylane Gold Cup), which have been successful in bringing persons to our shores for a few days at a time but attractions which have a steady sustainability are an excellent complement to such festivals.

Some ideas: if Barbados is to make heritage tourism a major revenue earner, our sites must be well maintained (and in some instances, restored) and promoted online.  For health and wellness tourism, there may be a need for niche market hospitals, medical and rehabilitation centres to be granted government concessions for the importation of equipment and tools so as to offset already high costs of operation.  Finally, the ability to offer world-class accommodation, transport and medical services as well as superior negotiating skills for broadcast and related rights goes hand-in-hand with sports tourism.

To conclude, being a high-cost destination is not a negative for Barbados but it is extremely important that neither do we price ourselves out of the market nor do we miss opportunities to structure our tourism product around attractions which give persons an incentive to travel to the island.  The most important factor however, is to ensure that the environment is clean, services are provided as seamlessly as possible, the customer service experience is improved and that generally, there is a united focus on the country’s tourism offerings.




The Exportation of Mas

This is one of my absolute favourite times of the year, Crop Over in my home, Barbados. We’re also in the throes of “Band Launch Season” in Trinidad and either anticipating the start or collecting the last feathers scattered on the ground at the culmination of carnivals from St. Lucia to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Hollywood USA, Jamaica and everyone else in between.

The last few years have been exciting for those who are involved in the business of, or who simply “jump” or “play mas”.  There are so many locations to choose from, as one can now begin with Trinidad Carnival in February/April, move on to Jamaica Carnival in April, then the newly minted Guyana Carnival and the more established Batabano and Caymas in the Cayman Islands in May, Vincy Mas and St. Lucia Carnival in July and Crop Over in Barbados in July/August, followed by Spice Mas in Grenada and Antigua Carnival and this is only in the Caribbean!

Is money being made?  The proof is in the numbers of course.  The Central Statistical Office of the Ministry of Planning and Development in Trinidad and Tobago reported that for the period February 10 to 28, 2017 (Carnival Monday and Tuesday were February 27 and 28, respectively), visitor arrivals specifically for carnival numbered 35,269 for Trinidad.  The estimated visitor expenditure during the aforementioned period was TT$8,943.00 per person, although this figure was not necessarily representative of the total contribution of carnival to the Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”) of Trinidad and Tobago.  The Oxford Business Group stated that tourism in Trinidad and Tobago contributed 8.2% in 2013 to the twin-island republic’s GDP, although the specific numbers relating to carnival were not provided.

In 2012 in Barbados, Crop Over “pumped approximately BBD$80 Million” into the economy and more recently, the explosion of popularity of Jamaica carnival has led to the Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett stating that in a few years, the spend generated by carnival could jump to JMD$1Billion.  Carnival in Jamaica, according to Bartlett, saw US$2.3 Million (JMD$300Million) in circulation earlier in 2017.  So there is definitely money to be made.

How about the makers of Mas in our small island developing states? Have they been making significant returns from our festivals?  From as far back as 2008, it was reported that “…some of the popular mas bands will gross in excess of TT$10 Million.”  It is important to note that the writer from Trinidad Carnival Diary pointed out that the question of what portion of the revenue was paid in taxes or could be counted as profit was debatable.  The bottom line is that in the past few years, a new individual has emerged from the proverbial cocoon of the traditional bandleader, this person being the “Carnival Entrepreneur”.

Over time, we have also seen the expansion of band offerings in Barbados, with recent major players entering the market such as Zulu International, Aura Experience, Krave the Band and Xhosa Barbados, alongside stalwarts such as Baje International.  Tribe Carnival in Trinidad recently launched a record six bands under its stewardship and Jamaica Carnival grew from one band to four, which have seen sold out bands by the time the annual Road March is staged.

The Carnival Entrepreneur is a business savvy individual whose business is making a living from leading and/or designing for a band, providing carnival concierge services and/or creating, managing and promoting events.  There are also myriad offshoots or sub-genres of this field of work such as the traveling makeup artist or spray-tanning professional.  These persons are not only creating or supplying for their indigenous carnivals, they are doing so within the Caribbean region and beyond.

From die-hard carnival chasers to those whose sole social experience revolves around the carnival/festival seasons in their respective islands (and everyone else in between), the names “Scorch”, “Roast Entertainment”, “Caesar’s Army”, “Tribe”, “Aura Experience”, , “Xamayca”, “Tracy Boyce”, “Samantha Ammon”, “Suga Apple”, “Rhion Romany”, “Yuma”, “Rebel”, “Candy Coated Events”, “Solange Govia”, “Sandra Hordatt”, “DJ Puffy”, “Xodus”, “Fonrose the Brand”, “Krave the Band”, “DJ Private Ryan”, “Soca Brainwash”, “Marie Collette”, “Lauren Austin”, “Douglas John” and “Shawn Danraj” have distinct followings for their prowess in costume design, Crop Over/carnival bands and fete management and promotion.  These businesses and business people have managed to generate excitement, in some cases to a frenzied level, of persons who want to wear a resort wear or Monday Wear piece, attend and event or jump/play as a member of that particular band.  These names are associated with fun and trendiness throughout the Caribbean and into the diaspora and in some cases, designs have graced the backs of international superstar celebrities such as Barbados’ own Rihanna, who has faithfully jumped with the band Aura Experience in a Laurin Austin design for a number of years, which in turn, boosted that band’s popularity to exponential proportions.

There is no better time to find one’s niche in the carnival business.  From fete promotion, carnival accessories (e.g. Carnivalista), resort wear, shopping your costume designs to major bands, or touring as a DJ, there are many ways to make carnivals and festivals into a year-round business.  While our islands and territories have been producing Mas for years, there has been a surge of interest in the last few years from persons outside of the region, particularly with the surging interest from Millenials in the diaspora who are seeking to establish familial ties to the Caribbean.  This has definitely not gone unnoticed by jurisdictions which may have had carnival for years (e.g. Jamaica) or newbies looking for a piece of the action (e.g. Guyana) whose goal is to turn their festivals into major tourism revenue earners.

In addition to fellow members of CARICOM, the brands and persons described above have branched out into countries and cities such as Miami, Toronto, Canada, Bermuda, Washington DC, Hollywood, California and New York and in some cases such as the Soca Brainwash event, have a massive following.  Further, with the advent of social media platforms such as Instagram, advertising has never been easier and more cost-effective.  A few posts coupled with word-of-mouth passing on of information and events are sold out in literally hours.

The question is, what infrastructure do we have in place and is there a need for one at the regional level to regulate or facilitate this industry?  How do we ensure that producers of carnival and festival-related content are welcomed into the fold outside of their respective countries?

In respect of the first question, carnivals in each island are managed by national organisations which are usually government owned and which host their own events such as calypso competitions, childrens’ carnival parades, general management of the parade of adult bands and similar competitions or events.  As a result, these brands work on their own privately (although there are usually organisations for band leaders who in many cases double as designers) and their owners travel and create linkages between jurisdictions.  The answer to the second question is a bit more complex.  Some brands, particularly the event brands, have faced backlash due to perceived competition created when they host an event in another country.  There is more evidence of this between Caribbean islands than extra-regionally.  In some cases, questions are asked as to whether the appropriate channels have been used to promote events and whether imported events distract revellers from enjoying a more “local” or “authentic” experience.

In spite of the foregoing, as with any business, the strong and innovative will survive.  This may be a harsh reality for some but creating a business model which can capture the hearts and waistlines of persons is an ongoing process and local brands should be encouraged to work as hard as they can to “set up shop” in other countries.  We should be very aware that we have reached a point where thanks to strong promotion, our festivals are attracting more persons from overseas than ever before, our business persons are winning awards, and our strongest bands and events are fully subscribed in record time.

At the CARICOM level, artists are permitted to move freely among Member States to do business, through via free movement, with recent discussions focusing on how to improve upon such regional laws.  However, it may be argued that many of the persons who move around the region in the business of Mas are not doing so mainly via these mechanisms and may rely more on social linkages made.  On a positive note, it has been acknowledged by Pamela Coke-Hamilton, outgoing Executive Director of the Caribbean Export Development Agency that in general, there has been “…an absence of a structure that looks at the monetization of the creative industries for the region…”.  With this understanding in mind, a recommendation was made in 2016 to establish the Caribbean Creative Industries Management Unit, which is a dedicated body whose purpose will be to address the needs of the regional creative industries.  Outside of CARICOM, the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement addresses the entry of certain categories of artists into the European Union to ply their trade.

So what next?  The business of Mas is moving full steam ahead.  From a consumer’s point of view, one only has to decide where next to visit and which events to attend and which costume to wear.  There is much to choose from.  From a law-maker’s perspective, a full understanding of the inner workings of the industry is imperative so that the most beneficial policies and rules are drafted so that the maximum potential of these business can be realised.  Opportunities abound, it is just a matter of finding means to make them work.