Tourism in Haiti - Tremendous Potential and Challenges

  • This is the first of a series of occasional articles dealing with tourism in Haiti, and the tremendous potential it has, as well as the challenges it faces. These articles will deal with policy matters, with products that Haiti can offer to be competitive, and with the various locations holding good potential for growth. They are written to alert possible investors of risks and rewards that tourism in Haiti could hold, as they eye investment opportunities.


    The metro Port-au-Prince area is in the midst of a wave of hotel construction, needed in the wake of the devastating quake of 2010 that halved the supply of available rooms. However, since the quake there has been tremendous innovation in new hotel building because the city is the nation’s sole international air gateway, and the nation’s capital city and business center. It must, therefore, quickly rebuild its hotel capacity for different types of travelers and has succeeded in doing this despite the obstacles.


    As the first installment in this series, and in the wake of over two and a half solid years of at times breathtakingly grim coverage, a major rebranding effort is in order as the nation works its way towards a condition of normalcy, much wanted and needed by the Haitian people. The need to repair the nation’s image in the world community serves the purpose to attract visitors of many kinds back to Haiti, official visitors, Diaspora members, business people, and cultural tourists to name a few types. This rebranding must also draw foreign investors to provide much needed capital and know-how for other key sectors like agribusiness and manufacturing.


    The Ministry of Tourism, now under Mme. Stephanie Balmir Villedrouin, has taken charge, using some of the classic image-molding PR tools of slogans and logos, boosted visibility via e-marketing and social networking, and presentations and booths at travel trade shows and at investment forums. Let’s hope the ministry can increase the momentum; better yet, get increased support from the ministry of economy and Centre de Facilitation de l’Investissement (Center for the Facilitation of Investment).


    The key is to change impressions of Haiti held by the international traveling public, by the travel trade, and by foreign investors. Let’s also hope that the Association Touristique d’Haiti (Tourism Association of Haiti) will provide valuable advice to visiting investors, and vigorously promote the essential partnerships to come among Haitian and foreign interests, like hotel branding and management companies and tour operators.


    In defense of tourism’s potential, one can also cite the unique case of the Labadee cruise resort outside Cap-Haïtien, a success story little known outside of Haiti, operating since the 1990s and recently expanded via a $55 million project of Royal Caribbean International. It has operated without any major closure despite the occasional periods of turmoil, hosting probably a grand total of a couple million visitors successfully. It is an example of a highly competitive product that was well conceived and consistently delivered. Haiti can offer more such destinations, and benefit other parts of the country.


    Later columns will explore the more promising tourism investments, and possible roles for Diaspora Haitians.


    © 2012 Manuel L. Knight is an American tourism sector planner based in Washington DC consulting for development agencies and hotel and resort developers and their lenders. He has broad international experience including hotel related assignments in Haiti since 2011. His first mission to Haiti was in 1998.