Tourism in Haiti - Beating the Water to Make Butter?
We all know that Haiti once had a tourism industry...before the HIV/AIDS scare, several coup d'etats, and the kidnapping crisis. The much more difficult questions concern whether Haiti could/will have one again and whether time spent in this sector would be better spent on infrastructure, education, etc.
Haiti has control of its HIV/AIDS epidemic, is more stable now, and has made great headway (real credit goes to MINUSTAH here) against the kidnappings. Obviously, it would be unrealistic to expect tourism to have a major uptick tomorrow or even this year. But should the attempt be made?
We all know about Haiti's fascinating history, warm culture, etc. Yet Haiti remains the only country in the Carribean without some form of tourism. It is a shame in that the high cost of the Euro has caused more travellers to skip Europe and to explore Latin America and the Carribean in our own back yard....and Haiti is in our back yard. Or maybe we are in Haiti's front yard.
According to a release by the United States Department of State, an offical there cited a correlation between stability and economic growth. Growth is estimated to be at 4.5% for the year. I would be interested in looking into this number futher because this would put Haiti up there with a number of fast growing African countries. If true, that's great.
The official attibutes the growth in large part to the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act (HOPE), He said USAID works with a number of lending institutions, including the Canadian-based Scotiabank to support the “informal sector” -- the small entrepreneurs who want to create a business with USAID assistance. The official cited a numer of new USAID programs which will begin in the next five months to lure investors back to Haiti.
There is a lot that needs to be done before tourism becomes viable again - but we think there are steps that could be taken which would benefit the country, and possible create a foundation for increased tourism in the future.
First, expand the airport outside of Cap Haitian. Make flights there rapid and affordable - an hour or less from Miami would be a big draw. If everyone who went to Jamaica had to go through Kingston, very few would go. There is basic tourist infrastructure there in the form of hotels, beaches, historic sites that cant be beat such as the Citadel.
Second, develop infrastructure. Route Nationale One should be paved all the way through to Cap Haitian. This will be good for business and reopen the coastline back for touristic business. Not that the Artibonite will become a Spring Break destination any time soon, but targeted to the Diaspora and to the niche groups that would be repeat visitors to Haiti. This should create jobs.
Third, protect the environment. When people hear about disasters, the last thing on their mind will be tourism. Reforestation will rebeautify (is this a word?) the country, prevent disasters, and make the country more marketable.
Fourth, stay serious about security. In all likelihood people will still have to come through Port au Prince for years to come. It's too bad but its the hand we're dealt. Egypt has a branch of police with the specific purpose of looking after tourists. This seems to work well for them, considering the heavy tourist flow and lack of incidents.
Fifth, move the few sites that people might be interested in visiting but are in "no go" areas. The Iron Market, if it is possible to do so without destroying its structural integrity, should be moved to Champ De Mars. Or failing that, a newer and better Iron Market should be built there. Haiti's art is a positive aspect of a tourist experience, but getting people to go into Bel Air is a hard sell.
Sixth, teach the international community about Haitian history. The story is compelling so tell it. Haiti needs an international marketing campaign,regardless of whether tourism will become possible again. Appointing Wyclef an Ambassador At Large was a good idea. Think about other members of the Diaspora who could perform a similar function in their respective sectors - Medicine, Science, Business, Literature. It is time to get the word out - this will help Haiti to receive the respect it deserves and interest people in the trips.
Seventh, start with your Diaspora. In my opinion, part of being Haitian is a sense of profound nostalgia. Many of the Diaspora will keep coming back if it is safe enough. Many would like to introduce their children to the country, many would like to bring friends, all want to know that security wont be a problem first. Reach out to them, hold events for them, do more then throw up banners on the street - it's gonig to take a while but they are on your side and will pitch in. Dont think small - there are some events underway like the Jacmel Film Festival which could expand. There are of course holidays, but think about concerts, do it bigger and better than anywhere else in the Carribean, have art festivals, etc. Use the art and music.
All of these would benefit the country and maybe, just maybe, create space for tourism in the future. In the
meantime, for those who have not yet visited Haiti, and are ready to do so, good for you.
Here are some tourism/travel related links.
Corbitt's Tips for Tourist (and instruction on how to join his list)
HaitiWebs E-Magazine (Tourism)
Euromonitor Report (looks like you may have to purchase it)
Voyage Lumiere (seems to be down right noe)
Norm's Place (best place to stay in Labadee)
ToHaiti (this looks particularly interesting)
State Department Travel Warnings
-but remember, consular officers are paid to be paranoid
WikiTravel - Haiti (you can add to it or modify it)
Hope that gives you a good start. Have any other Haiti related travel sites you like? Post them in commments. Thanks!
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