"Stability will bring a lot of business to Haiti" - Agustin Valverde, General Manager of Royal Oasis Hotel

  • Posted by Marina Vatav
  • September 11, 2014 5:41 AM EDT

Between 2012 and 2013 three high-end hotels opened their doors to welcome visitors to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. At the time, many people were skeptical that the high-end hotels could be a viable business, especially as the country was still struggling to rebuild after the devastating earthquake. 

Today, there are two other high-end hotels that plan to open next year: Hilton and Marriott.

We spoke with Agustin Valverde, the General Manager at Royal Oasis Hotel, to find out more about the hotel business in Haiti.


Raising an industry like a baby

Part of Occidental Hotels and Resorts, The Royal Oasis is a high-end hotel inaugurated in December 2012. Strategically located in the heart of Petion-Ville, the hotel has 128 rooms and suits, 3 restaurants, bars, meeting rooms, ballrooms, wifi, and offers anything a modern hotel in the US would have, for example. Now they are in the process of building a pool, and soon will start the construction of a new convention center. As a new business things were not always smooth running.

"The first year is the toughest, it's a new hotel, the marketing began six months before the opening, but it takes at least one year for people to know about the hotel. This is very common in this business," said Agustin.

Although there is still a long way to go for Haiti to attract the number of tourists it used to have in the 70s through the early 80s, the Royal Oasis hotel experienced a continuous increase in the number of guests. Valverde noted that this is partly due to the 20% increase in the airport tourists arrivals during the last year.

There are not so many leisure travelers in Haiti yet, therefore, most guests staying at the 4-5 star-hotels are business visitors and members of the Haitian Diaspora.


Staffing remains one of the biggest challenges

Finding qualified personnel and maintaining a certain quality of service is one of the biggest issues for hotels in Haiti, as well as for other businesses. "It takes a lot of time to train our personnel. Customer Service is new here for the hotels, so those are things we are working on,” says Agustin Valverde.

At Royal Oasis most of the training is done internally, whereas managers are being trained at other Occidental hotels mainly in the Dominican Republic, but also in Mexico and other parts of the Caribbean.

"We know that the hotel industry is like a baby, and it will take a couple of years, maybe more, to have good industry here," said Valverde.

Another major issue for hotels in Haiti is the lack of companies providing maintenance services. For example, to fix an air-conditioner and other items the hotels have to contract companies from abroad, which increases their operational costs.

Haiti should invest in its image and stability

Asked what should be the strategy for the further development of tourism the country, the General Manager of Royal Oasis noted:

"The strategy is the one the government has right now: to change the image of Haiti, to let people know it's not a dangerous country because it's not, and to increase the services of the hotels. To show the real Haiti."

Another factor that has a major impact on the business environment is the political stability.

"I think stability will mean the creation of more hotel business in this country. With stability we have the ingredients to become a product. With stability and people continuing with the same efforts, we can become a product like Punta Cana [popular destination in the Dominican Republic] for example," pointed out Agustin Valverde.

"30 years ago in Punta Cana there was nothing. Right now they have a large industry there, so I think maybe in 15 years when we talk about Haiti, we can talk about another Punta Cana because we have the ingredients to become that. We have the natural ingredients. I was told that Haiti and Cuba beaches have the most beautiful waters in the Caribbean area, so we have the ingredients to become a good product."

When it comes to the competition, the General Manager of Royal Oasis welcomes it.

"We expect more people to come for business so the competition is always good. It means the city is increasing business."

According to the Caribbean Tourism Organization the Dominican Republic received 4.7 million tourists last year. About half of them stayed at Punta Cana resorts. Haiti on the other hand welcomed only about 420,000; this represents, however, a 20% increase from the previous year.