Rebel Salute pulls tourism spend

Rebel Salute organizer and Organic HEARTS CEO Patrick “Tony Rebel” Barrett answers questions from business journalists during a Jamaica Observer Business Forum. Also part of the panel were independent communications consultant Carole Beckford (centre) and Tony Rebel’s daughter, Jahyudah Barrett, who is also Director of Organic HEARTS (Photo: Karl Mclarty).

With foreign audience attendance at the Rebel Salute now able to compete with local patrons, the reggae festival is expected to continue contributing to tourist revenue when the event moves to Grizzly’s in Priory, St .Ann, returns.

The event, organized and hosted by Patrick “Tony Rebel” Barrett’s helmed production and artist management outfit Organic HEARTS, has evolved from a purely music festival into a lifestyle event that promotes plant-based foods as part of the Rastafarian joie de vivre and the medicinal ones and religious uses of marijuana.

Originally a one-night concert when Tony Rebel first hosted it in Mandeville in 1994 to commemorate his birthday, Rebel Salute has grown into a two-day gathering with an audience of over 30,000, which in the past has included Prime Ministers from Jamaica and Jamaica Barbados.

According to Attorney and Director of Organic HEARTS Jahyudah Barrett, the addition of one more night was due to an investigation conducted in 2012 to determine whether or not audiences were happy with a single night. She told reporters and editors during a recent Jamaica Observer Business Forum that when the show first experimented with the two-night festival, turnout was equal for both shows.

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“And I recently spoke to a gentleman who has been a part of Rebel Salute since the beginning and is looking forward to a week of celebrations,” she said, and her father beamed that he expects the same.

Furthermore, independent communications consultant Carole Beckford, who is leading the festival’s promotion, pointed out that Rebel Salute has become a kind of “pilgrimage” that is now comparable to other reggae festivals in Europe, such as the Rototom Sunsplash in Benicassim, Spain; Reggae Summerjam in Cologne, Germany; and Reggae Geel in Belgium.

“…We would have hired the largest community of entertainers for a festival and still have attracted one of the largest international audiences,” she said.

“Because when people come to St. Ann, they come for the festival, but they stay for the allure of the parish… The records at JTB will tell you that almost half the people who attend Rebel Salute are from overseas – 47 percent,” added Beckford, pointing to the 2017 numbers.

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A further breakdown of attendance shows that in 2019, 52 percent of foreign audiences were from the United States of America, 13 percent from the United Kingdom, seven percent from Canada and 28 percent from other countries.

Beckford argued that previous venues in Manchester and St Elizabeth would not have the capacity to host the calendar event given the festival’s audience size.

Asked if there are any plans to package the festival with hotel deals and attractions, Tony Rebel pointed out that while event management company Organic HEARTS has its hands full, there are hotels and travel agents that can package around the event would have laced. In addition, the organizers have formed partnerships with the Ministry of Culture, the Jamaica Tourist Board, Sandals and Courts.

In the absence of in-person meetings in 2020 and 2021, the younger Barrett says the local council has expressed a loss of an important source of income for citizens across the board.

“One of the things that happened earlier this year at the meeting with the Parish Council and the current Mayor of St Ann [‘s Bay]he said the community misses Rebel Salute because … when Rebel Salute mek all the money, even the man who’s not allowed in the venue selling jerk chicken,” she said.

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“…So everyone needs money,” Barret observed emphatically, adding, “Even those who aren’t directly a part of the festival. The hotels make money because they are always full; the attractions get a lot of tourists because they’re there for the festival and, as you mentioned, the artisans.”

On that note, Beckford said economic observer that Rebel Salute’s overseas guests are typically long-term tourists looking to enjoy Jamaica’s gastronomic offerings as well as adventure attractions such as Mystic Mountain and Dolphin Cove.

“The people who play sports – sports and entertainment people, stay in places longer and they want good food and they’re going to have adventures. So the potential for them to spend money, the actual overseas guests, is crucial for a festival like Rebel Salute because it’s kind of like a pilgrimage,” she explained, adding that Jamaicans are splurging on the same experiences.

The hosting of Rebel Salute coincides with Jamaica’s winter tourist season.