Mont Joli Hotel professionalizes its business and prepares for tourism growth in the North

  • Posted by Marina Vatav
  • October 6, 2013 7:44 AM EDT
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Situated in Cap-Haitien with a beautiful view over the ocean, in the proximity of world-famous historical monuments Citadelle Laferriere and Palais Sans-Souci, Mont Joli Hotel, a business with traditions, does not settle; instead, it keeps innovating and taking large strides forward as the country pushes to revive its once-thriving tourism industry.

Founded in 1954 by Yvette and Walter Bussenius in their 6 bedroom family residence, the hotel is now at its third generation of family owners. It has 40 rooms, 80 employees, 70% occupancy, and big plans for the future.

The hotel has sustained a lot during the last 60 years of Haiti's tumultuous history, and it seems that nothing can stop it now from unprecedented growth. In fact, it is getting ready for better times ahead. Mont Joli is undergoing construction to double the number of rooms in its inventory, improve its online presence, and to build meaningful partnerships.

"You can no longer have just a brochure online."

Unlike many hotels in Haiti that are slow to implement new technologies, Mont Joli is on the fast track. They are working to replace the old website with a more complete and dynamic one by the end of the year.

"You can no longer have just a brochure online. It really has to be interactive, and we are trying to bring more content because we are not just selling the hotel, we are trying to sell the region as a whole," shares Nicolas Bussenius, owner of Mont Joli.

In their new website, they plan to include relevant articles about Cap-Haitien, its surroundings, its people and culture to bring more visibility to the region and the hotel. The articles will be produced in partnership with Solimar International, an American sustainable tourism consulting and marketing firm. Solimar will be involved in writing the content, and monitor the web traffic among other things.

"It is a lot of work to be done. The reason why it is exciting for me is that everything that we are doing is new. We are way behind other tourism destinations, but I think that we are trying to organize and we are trying to pull our resources together. I think we understand as a community that before doing the competition on the ground we have to get ourselves together to sell the destination," says Nicolas.

The new website will have a built-in reservation system.

"We want people to be able to pay for the rooms directly using a credit card online, which means that we also have to work with the banks and that is what we are doing now."

Mont Joli is also ahead of its competitors in using international booking engines. It is the only hotel in Cap-Haitien available on Expedia.com, one of the biggest room-booking websites.

Access to finance is a major challenge

At Mont Joli Hotel, each generation of owners worked hard in moving the business forward. The founders started the 6-room bed-and-breakfast, the next generation brought it to the capacity of 40 rooms, and now Nicolas and his team are working on adding 46 new rooms to reach a total capacity of 86 rooms. They expect to finish the construction of a new building in two years. This will allow the hotel to work with travel agencies and tour operators that only work with larger hotels that are able to commit and block a certain number of rooms for clients coming from them.

Many hotels in Haiti are expending now. One of the biggest challenges of Mont Joli and many other local businesses is access to finance.

"The challenge for me is access to finances. It is still very delicate. People are not running over themselves to invest. There are some funds available, but you have to know where to look and how. In my case it is a small hotel, and with some international loans, I either don't qualify for them, or if I do, the process is very long and expensive," noted Nicolas.

Tacking on the Professional Development of its employees

Finding competent managers and hospitality employees in Haiti is not the easiest task for many reasons: one of them being that many educated people are leaving the country.

It is a challenge for many businesses to find or grow world class professionals. Mont Joli's strategy to professional growth of its employees is the individual approach.

"It goes all the way from the housekeeping to management. It is very important to tailor the development to everyone. I like to say that I try to hone down the process. For example, I really wanted all the staff to speak English, or at least have some knowledge and be able to interact with the guests. We've been able to come up with a new language program that is very basic for all our employees. Everything is segmented."

Marketing and meaningful partnerships are the key

Most of the hotel's customers are Americans and Haitians living abroad, many of them come on business trips.

One of the new markets that the hotel is reaching to are the tourists visiting the North Coast of the Dominican Republic. The hotel is looking to partner with local tours agencies, and invite those tourists to cross over and spend 1-3 days in Haiti as well. The only issue so far in tackling that market has been the low inventory of rooms that could be committed for the travelers coming through the agencies.

The other partnership that the Mont Joli Hotel has made was with Trust Hospitality, an American company that provides hotel management services. Now they are assisting the hotel with technical services and business development.

"It's giving me a strategic edge and I've learned a lot from them and they've been able to put me on online travel agencies and help me with my visibility, my marketing, etc." says Nicolas.

As the hotel increases its capacity, the end goal is to have Trust Hospitality take on the management of the hotel, including bringing a manager. "That doesn't mean I will retire, but just have a new team," says Nicolas smiling.

"The Government can not do it alone, the private sector has to follow and vice versa"

The trends in the tourism industry in Haiti are obvious. The number of hotel rooms is increasing, a few international hotel chains such as Best Western, Occidental Hotels, and Marriott have opened branches in Haiti, there are more flights coming into the country, and the Ministry of Tourism is busy promoting it. There's also a tendency to improve the quality of service.

"The specific trend is that hotels are really changing their management structures and are becoming more professional. The mom and pop operations are slowing down and it's really making way for more corporate-like structure and more solid management," says Nicolas.

"I think the Ministry of Tourism is doing really a great job, she is really pushing it, but the image of Haiti is not going to change overnight. The government can not do it alone, the private sector has to follow and vice versa. For example, we have the airport in Cap-Haitien that should be inaugurated I hope very soon, around the beginning of next year. If you have a plane landing with 180 to 200 people, you need to have the hotel rooms, and they must be of comparable standards as those of our neighbors in the Caribbean."

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