Cassandra Francois has her work cut out for her, and she knows it.
As the minister of tourism for Haiti, the challenges are many at the best of times. This is not the best of times for Haiti.
Haitians are reeling from a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that rocked the southern region on Aug. 14, followed by howling winds and rain from tropical storm Grace that passed close by two days later.
The country still has not fully recovered from the earthquake of 2010, which has been followed in the years since by tropical storms, political instability that seems a permanent fixture of government, and Covid-19.
Francois, fortunately, is no rookie in the tourism arena, having nine years under her belt in various posts within tourism, the last four as tourism minister.
During a recent Caribbean Tourism Organization webinar, Francois discussed the current situation in Haiti and laid out strategies and initiatives for the long term.
Haiti's current challenges
"Right now, the challenges from the earthquake are to give temporary shelter to all who were left homeless and to start the new school year on Oct. 4," she said. "The quake destroyed 362 schools, and we must have facilities in place for the students.
"We must put in place a central operation in each affected area to help with distribution of supplies, medical equipment, food and shelter and get teachers and tourism workers back to work."
Her "immediate goals" for tourism, she said, were to create tourism jobs for people affected by natural disasters, raise standards of service, increase tourism training programs, improve existing sites and open up new ones."
Pre-Covid, Haiti averaged close to 800,000 cruise passengers a year since 2015, 70% of whom were from the U.S. Haiti welcomed 500,000 visitors that same year and saw the opening of the Marriott hotel in Port-au-Prince.
Long-term tourism goals for Haiti
Francois' long-term goals to revive the tourism sector and boost visitor arrivals would put focus on the natural aspects of Haiti, its wellness offerings, its people and culture and put in place a national tourism concept that will encourage partnerships between the public and private sectors.
"I don't have a lot of resources to work with," she said, but she added that she was "grateful for the assistance" of organizations like the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, the CTO and the Global Tourism Resilience Center in Jamaica.
She would like to establish a network of tourism routes in Haiti, such as river and water routes that would open up activities and explorations for visitors and as create jobs for locals.
Regional and diaspora travel is on her agenda, as well, including a future project that could involve multidestination travel between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Cuba.
Francois was asked if Haiti is encouraging travelers to visit Haiti now. "No, not right now," she said. "People are aware of the issues we currently face.
But, she added, "We're working hard to put a new face on tourism that takes in our people, history and culture, especially in the northern regions of the country and along the coast."