Events like these are a crowd favourite for the Virgin Islands’ tourism product, and any attendee can see why. It truly is a good show of the BVI Tourist Board’s vision to always provide superb guest experience. From the branding to the promotions, to the guest arrival and departure – it’s all the moving parts working together to create a stellar event.
A conversation with one of the event’s key organisers Rhodni Skelton brings to life the Ralph Lauren quote; “A lot of hard work is hidden behind nice things”.
Rhodni, son of the soil, has served the BVI Tourist Board in several capacities over the past 18 years. In addition to being an authority on BVI tourism, Rhodni is a marketing and events whizz. Now the board’s Deputy Director for Marketing, it’s his role as Events Marketing Manager that thrust him into the enriching, but spiny embrace of the lobster…festival (Spiny lobster – get it?)
It was 2011 when a casual conversation with popular West End boat captain, Bradshaw Browne, helped stir Rhodni’s events imagination. He recalls that he was just hanging out with Bradshaw, who is a “guy full of stories”. who first pushed the idea to create a lobster festival in Anegada. Rhodni listened because not only did he acknowledge that Bradshaw was not a savvy marketer or consultant, he was a man who frequented Anegada, who understood the industry and the people on the ground.
“At that time, every other main island had its own ‘thing’. Tortola had the Music Fest and Spring Regatta, Virgin Gorda had the Poker Run and Christmas in July, and Jost Van Dyke had the annual Old Year’s celebration.”
After getting a green light from the Board, Rhodni then formed his team comprising Kaletha Henry and Kyle Harrigan and started having community meetings with the Anegada businesspeople in 2012.
Rhodni says he is grateful to the community, Lauren Wheatley and the late Aubrey Levons in particular, who were very supportive of the festival concept, but also were open to the ideas of having a ‘culinary adventure’ with stops at the participating restaurants and bars. Rhodni admits that not everyone was sold on the adventure at first but was able to convince them that the entire island should be showcased.
“I conveyed to them that the beauty of Anegada is also in the drive – the clean open roads, crisp air, cool breeze and the picturesque scenery. And so, driving around from spot to spot is certainly a deliberate decision for the lobster festival.”
And even with buy-in from the community, support from the Board a year of planning, and a good team, there was still loads of hard work to do to pull it off. Rhodni remembers being on the ground in Anegada a few days before the event to ensure the island’s readiness to receive the upsurge in guests. He thought about how sometimes people like to ‘go off the beaten path’ and may take the off-roads and get lost. That led him to driving around with Kyle looking for places to put signage.
He chuckles when thinking of how they had not even considered what it would be like to drive signage stakes into earth that was made of coral and limestone rock and having the appropriate tools. The latter was rectified with the kindness of the people of Anegada who loaned them power tools and other equipment to get the nitty gritty part of their job done.
That first year, even with a turnout of 300 to 400 persons, Rhodni was not completely disappointed. “It wasn’t an impressive turnout, but I listened to the feedback. The people who came out, really enjoyed themselves, and Aubrey lobbied for the event to continue amongst the local businesspersons.”
Rhodni knew that if they tried again, things would turn around and they did. The following year, the event attracted 1,600 people and since then has grown exponentially every year.
With the passing of the 2017 hurricanes that devastated most of the Territory, this did not dissuade both Aubrey and Lauren from championing for year five of the lobster fest.
“This was one of the best lobster festivals we’ve had in terms of the spirit,” exclaimed Rhodni, adding, “Most businesses reported that they sold out everything that year.”
“I was happy to have the support of the locals. I’ve always told the Anegadians that the event is theirs. Our job at The BVI Tourist Board is to work alongside them to ensure the best possible guest experience.”
Rhodni opines that hosting the event in the early days was hard, but that the people of Anegada made it all worth it.
“Those people in Anegada are awesome. You don’t have to lock doors. They take care of you. Everything is made easy. It’s just an overall nice vibe.”
Deputy Director says the festival is one of the most fulfilling events he has worked on to date, and which brings him great pride. He has witnessed not only the rise in attendees, but also the expansion of existing food and beverage business, the creation of new ones, the growth in overnight accommodation and the increase in on-island excursions. The people, he noted, responded to the growing needs of patrons.
“It is more than likely that these investors would not have seen it fit to invest, had it not been for the creation of the Anegada Lobster Festival.”
The Deputy Director also made special note of how Anegada also has opened historic sites like the Faulkner House Museum, made it easier to get around on cool mini-mokes and scooters, and hosting fun and educational activities like horseback riding, kiteboarding, visiting the Iguana Santuary or the famed Conch Shell Mounds.
Rhodni also says that over the years there have been several strategies deployed to ensure the sustainability of the event and more importantly of the lobster populations.
He noted. “Thousands of pounds of lobster are consumed over this three-day celebration. I’m happy to report that fishermen and trappers have continued to be very careful to throw back any lobsters that are laden with eggs, what we call the ‘breeders.’
Rhodni made special mention of plans at one time to integrate presentations by Giles Cadman, a resident who owned and operated a lobster farm. The idea was to raise awareness and have Giles speak to the life cycle of the crustacean.
And while Rhodni says he has taken a step back and is proud of how team member Carnel Clyne has spearheaded the event over the past three years, he is looking forward to sitting all the way back – but with excitement – to see what happens 10 years from now.
“I’ll be happy to see all the innovative concepts the younger generation of event planners will come up with. Things that I didn’t think of. Things that will help the event come to life even more.”
So, the next time you come out to see all the ‘nice things’ at the Anegada Lobster Festival, be sure to raise a glass in recognition to Rhodni and all the key players who continue to put in the hard work – all for the love of lobster. A worthy cause!