By NEIL HARTNELL
and NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporters
Exuma’s Chamber of Commerce president yesterday said he did not know of any Bahamian companies that “went out of business” due to the Fyre Festival fiasco.
Pedro Rolle, while acknowledging the suffering caused by unpaid debts left behind by the organisers, told Tribune Business that most residents have “moved on” and are “not dwelling” on the near two-year-old debacle despite the renewed international media interest.
Describing Fyre Festival as “a learning experience” for those unlucky enough to have been involved, Mr Rolle said: “I think Exumians, and locals in particular, they tend to deal with situations in the Family Islands.
“Once that’s gone, people have a tendency to move on. I don’t see any people dwelling on the Fyre fiasco in any significant way. Now it’s come up again people are talking about it, and if you ask them of course they want to be be paid, but they’re not sitting down with their hands in the air about it. People have moved on.
“This puts it back at the forefront, but our approach has to be to cause people to look at the positive then learn from it and move on.”
As for the economic impact, Mr Rolle added: “I don’t know of any business entity that went bust because of losses on the Fyre Festival. I’m sure they suffered, but I don’t know of anyone who went out of business.
“I don’t think it’s something that’s predominantly in Exuma business talk at all. It’s like a learning experience. If it comes again people will do it differently, but I think they have moved on. A lot of people learned lessons from it.
“If you’re going to conduct business with certain entities they’re going to request upfront deposits, and don’t go ahead in good faith and do all this work and they don’t come through. Overall, lessons have been learned.”
Mr Rolle, though, was less sure whether the Government had “learned the lessons they should learn” from Fyre Festival despite assurances that it had.
Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism, yesterday again lamented that a “greater level of due diligence” should have been carried out on the Fyre Festival’s promoters to determine if they had the necessary financial and organising capacity. He admitted that The Bahamas had suffered some reputational damage as a result.
The festival, which was organised by tech-entrepreneur Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, promised a “cultural moment created from a blend of music, art and food”. The claimed they set out “to provide a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience on the Islands of the Exumas”, and billed it as equivalent to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in southern California.
The festival was scheduled to take place, first on Norman’s Cay, and then on Great Exuma, over two weekends in April and May of 2017. When hundreds of festival-goers arrived at the site they were shocked to find that nothing was in place for a concert of the scale that was advertised.
“The Fyre festival obviously was very unfortunate,” Mr D’Aguilar said. “This chap Billy McFarland came to The Bahamas and really committed a level of fraud, for which he has now gone to jail. He sucked a lot of people in and led many people to believe this was going to be a successful event.
“The staff at the Ministry of Tourism did what they were supposed to do, which was facilitate the event in terms of Customs and importation and licensing. We do that all the time for many projects. Unfortunately, probably a greater level of due diligence should have been done to ensure that the disaster that happened did not. While the Ministry of Tourism wasn’t complicit in the failure it regrettably caused the country some reputational damage.”
Mr D’Aguilar added: “Moving forward, we really have to be mindful of that and not accept everyone willingly through the door. Maybe the previous minister in his exuberance to make the deal done went all in and, in hindsight, that was mistake.”
Two separate documentaries released by Netflix and Hulu in recent days have brought renewed interest in the festival, drawing attention to the now-infamous scheme which saw investors defrauded of significant sums of money, hundreds of festival attendees left stranded after its abrupt cancellation, and numerous vendors left unpaid.
Customers who paid $1,200 to over $100,000 hoping to see Blink-182 and the hip-hop act Migos arrived on Exuma only to learn they were cancelled. Their luxury accommodations and gourmet food consisted of leaky white tents and packaged food.
Customers subsequently lashed out on social media with the hashtag #fyrefraud. The bust was an embarrassment to some famous people after it was promoted on social media by models and celebrities including Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski.
Last October, McFarland was sentenced to spend six years in prison by a judge who called him a “serial fraudster”. McFarland, 26, admitted to defrauding investors of $26m on the Fyre Festival and over $100,000 in a fraudulent ticket-selling scheme after his arrest in the scam.