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Creativity, 6-star service the key

Natasha Beckles

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The Caribbean’s tourism sector has huge potential for growth despite the negative impact of Britain’s controversial air passenger duty (APD).
But according to Baroness Floella Benjamin, the region needed to develop more imaginative tourism offerings and train its people to deliver “six star service”.
The Trinidadian-born member of the British House of Lords made the comments as she addressed the third National Entrepreneurship Summit at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on Friday.
The businesswoman, actress and broadcaster said the Caribbean had to come together and speak with one voice since sustained lobbying against the distance-based APD had so far proved unsuccessful.
Currently, the rate of APD paid by travellers is calculated according to the distance from London to the destination country’s capital city, favouring destinations such as the United States over the Caribbean, so that those travelling to Barbados (around 4 300 miles) pay more duty than those flying to Hawaii (more than 7 000 miles).
Baroness Benjamin said: “One suggestion I have put forward is for all of the Caribbean to come together and [nominate a] designated capital city to Hamilton in Bermuda, putting the Caribbean in the same band as the United States, which would be fairer.
“It can’t be fair that you can fly to Hawaii [from the United Kingdom] for cheaper than to fly here to Barbados.
“I believe this is one way of getting around the damaging problem of APD because common sense tells us that when organizations speak as one voice . . . they can normally achieve a great deal more than if they act alone and act in isolation,” she said.
The Baroness said the islands had to offer visitors a world class service not just in the hotels “but from the very moment a visitor or a tourist sets foot on Caribbean soil”.
“People in the street need to be welcoming because they will indirectly benefit from tourism and the whole population in the Caribbean needs to understand that they are very much part of all this,” she said.
The television producer and writer stressed that Caribbean people had to be taught that service was not synonymous with servitude.
“We must train Caribbean people in the art of service to provide a six star environment if visitors are to continue to come to the islands and investors are to come here.
“Training has to be one of the highest priorities and the most important aspects of the economic future of the region.
“Unless we take it seriously tourists will go elsewhere, businesses will go elsewhere [and] entrepreneurs will not thrive,” Baroness Benjamin said.