Following a devastating natural disaster and years of being associated with poverty and political instability, Haiti now seems poised to make a comeback, a strategy that will include tourism as one of its main components.
The island nation is currently seeing a resurgence of tourism investments, more than four years after the earthquake of January 2010 killed thousands of people and displaced many more in the chaos that followed. Prior to the disaster, Haiti has weathered a political roller coaster for many years, from the dictatorships of the Duvalier family to the 2004 ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
However, over decades, it has persevered and in 2014, a number of tourism opportunities have arisen for the country.
On July 31, Carnival Corporation & plc – the parent company of Carnival Cruise Lines – announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding for development of a $70 million port on the island of Tortuga, located off of Haiti’s northern coast. The project is the largest investment by the cruise industry in Haiti, said Carnival. The company, acknowledging the benefits of the port for both travellers and Haitians alike, estimates that more than 900 people will be employed as a result, with the potential for many more jobs when the company pursues further developments on the island in the years to come.
In addition to Carnival, Toronto-based tour operator G Adventures will launch its Highlights of Haiti tour package in February 2015, taking travellers to a number of attractions, ranging from the UNESCO-designated Citadelle Laferrière to the Bassin-Bleu pools and Marie-Jeanne cave, to shopping marketplaces for local goods.
The tour also brings visitors to the Art Creation Foundation for Children, which reaches out at-risk youth through art. The new tour package was crafted following a 2013 trip to Haiti by the company, sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to gauge the viability of Haiti as a travel destination, said Jeff Russill, VP of innovation at G Adventures. Russill explained that while G Adventures had been considering offering packages to Haiti for several years (one of many potential destinations under consideration), it wasn’t until the trip that the company saw that Haiti was ready for tourists.
G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip was also among the many who helped with relief efforts in the country following the 2010 earthquake, flying in on Air Canada with donations raised in Toronto, said Russill.
“We discovered that Haiti was an amazing place and that we needed to be going there,” he told PAX, adding that the infrastructure established following the 2010 quake is paving the way for travellers. “It’s ready for people – Haiti is not sulking anymore. People often associate Haiti with ‘poor’ and ‘earthquake.’ It’s all about crafting a new perception – Haiti has everything to give.”
Anika Regis, first secretary in charge of communications and tourism at the Haitian embassy in Ottawa, said that all of this activity can only mean good things for the country.
“The direct impact, of course, is jobs, created directly or indirectly,” said Regis. “It’s also helping to restore confidence in Haiti, so it’s a win-win situation. Tourism is a major factor for the country because it’s very much affecting all sectors of the economy, as well as changing the image of Haiti and helping its people.”
PHOTO: Haiti's Bassin Bleu, courtesy of G Adventures.