A combined delegation from the Caribbean has met up with representatives from ABTA to express their concerns about the impact of the APD increase on the region.

The ex-UK departure tax rose for a second time in a year, with APD on economy fares up to £75, from £50 per person, and premium economy up to £150 per person from £100 on flights to the Caribbean.

Dr Rupert Griffith, Trinidad and Tobago’s tourism minister, said he was optimistic that the Caribbean delegation would be able to secure a reduction in APD.

“We’re having two meetings here and we hope that by the end of the meetings we will be in a stronger position,” he said, adding. “We hope we can at least get a reduction – it’s possible.”

Dr Griffith also outlined plans to increase UK visitor numbers by a minimum of 5% next year on the back of improved agent training, raising standards and growing niche markets, such as sports tourism.

“We want to recover as quickly as we can to 2008 levels,” he said.

The Ministry of Tourism has launched two programmes aimed at raising service standards across the board. Showcased at WTM, the STAR programme is designed at less experienced frontline staff and mid-management positions, while the STEP programme is aimed at agents across the board.

“Both the programmes have the same goal – world-class service delivered throughout the industry,” said Ernest Littles, president of the Tourism Development Company for Trinidad and Tobago. “We’re trying to change attitudes. There is a national commitment to quality service delivery.”

At the same time, the ministry is ramping up the Trinidad and Tobago Tourism Industry Certification auditing programme, which aims to not just improve standards but provide visitors, agents and tour operators with a form of recourse if they receive poor service and have complaints.

The TTTIC accreditation programme is also designed to help promote the country as a safe, secure destination. Dr Griffith appealed to agents to tell their clients to look for the TTTIC logo when booking services like tours.

The Ministry also wants agents to highlight developments that are helping to make Trinidad an Tabago more affordable, such as recent mid-market hotel developments by Courtyard by Marriott and Hampton Inn. “That will increase visitor numbers, and make it more affordable to stay longer too,” said Griffith.

Littles said agents would play a key role in driving visitor numbers and raising awareness of the new packages it aims to create with tour operators around niche markets, with incentives being put in place to encourage upselling.

To help drive sports tourism, Trinidadian and former international cricket star Brian Lara was at WTM to help promote improvements in both the country’s stadia and its ability to successfully host large-scale events. Lara pointed to recent successes such as hosting the Commonwealth Head of Government Meeting and the under-17s football World Cup.

In a separate move, the Ministry has set up a grant programme to improve its hotel stock. The Hotel Room Upgrade Incentive Programme offers owners of hotels with less than 100 rooms a grant equivalent to 25% of the cost of upgrading its rooms to “first-class levels”. Currently, Griffith said 300 rooms are being upgraded under the programme.

Find out more at www.gotrinidadandtobago.com.