Milestones in Haiti’s progress since the January 2010 earthquake that leveled much of the capital city and surrounding area include hotel development, expanded airlift, the launch of a successful TV campaign, increased visitor numbers from the U.S. and the commitment of a major U.S. tour operator to launch package programs.

“We still have work to do, but I feel Haiti is on its way as a tourism destination, and the Haitian people are beginning to understand the benefits of tourism,” said Stephanie Balmir Villedrouin, Haiti’s tourism minister.

Villedrouin’s passion for Haiti has fueled several initiatives, including the country’s first television campaign, which launched in February and runs through June.

Developed in partnership with Cablevision, the 30-second spots target the Haitian diaspora and mainstream leisure travelers in the New York tristate area.

“The campaign not only helps put Haiti firmly back on the tourism map by raising awareness, but it also gives consumers the chance to plan their travel through our interactive destination channel,” Villedrouin said.

“Haiti: Experience It,” the destination channel component at Cablevision channel 650, enables viewers to select from a library of videos with information on attractions, hotels, tour guides, events and historical sites.

“Feedback has been amazing,” Villedrouin said. “The ads have generated more than 300,000 inquiries. We’re a talked-about country now.”

The recent opening of the $45 million, 175-room Marriott in Port-au-Prince “signals a huge vote of confidence in Haiti’s ability to launch tourism on the world stage,” the minister said.

Four years from blueprints to ribbon-cutting, the hotel is a philanthropic partnership between Marriott International, the Digicel telecommunications group and the Clinton Foundation.

The Marriott serves as a showcase for 2,500 Haitian paintings, fabrics and craft pieces as well as a new source of employment for locals.

Close to 95% of the entry-level positions have been filled by Haitians who trained at the hotel school in Port-au-Prince and at Marriott properties in the Caribbean and then returned to work at the hotel.

The Marriott joins the Best Western Premier in Petion-ville, which opened in 2013 in a suburb of Port-au-Prince; the NH El Rancho Hotel, rebuilt from the ground up in Petion-ville following the earthquake; and the Occidental Royal Oasis, also in Petion-ville.

Haiti currently has 9,800 hotel rooms, but only 2,500 are of the standards preferred by international travelers.

“We have developers interested in hotel projects on Ile a Vache island off the south coast, in the Cap Haitien area on the north coast and in and around the capital,” Villedrouin said.

Other signs of Haiti’s progress include visitor numbers that topped 465,000 in 2014, up 10.8% over 2013.

“The U.S. market makes up 65% of our total visitors,” Villedrouin said. “While many from the U.S. are missionaries, aid volunteers and the diaspora, Haiti also is attracting more and more mainstream tourists who come for our culture and history.”

Those factors constitute Haiti’s main selling points, which are emphasized in the destination’s tourism promotion and marketing.

“Every Caribbean destination has sun and sand,” Villedrouin said. “Haiti does too. We offer beautiful beaches and offshore islands, but our music, art, food, people and history make us a cultural destination. That is our added value.”

One of Villedrouin’s goals since taking office four years ago has been to persuade U.S. tour operators to package Haiti.

“It’s been a challenge and a long process, but the entry of CheapCaribbean this year is so important,” she said.

So far, the operator has launched packages only with the 67-room Moulin Sur Mer Beach Resort in Montrouis on the Cote des Arcadins on Haiti’s west coast, an hour from Port-au-Prince.

Land rate for the four-night package starts at $589 per person, double, with breakfast, through June 30.

The operator has visited a number of other properties in Port-au-Prince and also is eyeing the northern Cap Haitien region for potential expansion in subsequent phases of its Haiti’s rollout, according to Steve Dumaine, president.

“Haiti is a fascinating country with plenty to offer travelers seeking a unique escape, unlike your typical sun-and-sand vacation,” Dumaine said. “While overcoming common misperceptions of Haiti will be a challenge, the reality of the situation on the ground is very different from the images Americans remember from the earthquake.”

Dumaine described Haiti as a destination that blends French and Caribbean culture “with an exotic, old-world charm that is difficult to find in today’s modern tourism industry.”

The country is benefitting from greater airlift as well. JetBlue will launch twice-weekly seasonal service from Boston to Haiti on June 17, to run through Sept. 5.

The flights will complement the carrier’s existing daily flights from New York and twice-daily service from Fort Lauderdale.

American offers daily roundtrip service between Miami and Cap Haitien as well as daily service from New York Kennedy and Miami.


From Our Partners

2020 Elite Island Webinar
More Family Fun in St. Lucia @ St. James’s Club Morgan Bay
Register Now
Capitalizing on a Peak Year for Alaska Cruising
Read More
2020 Expo 2020 Feb
The World’s Greatest Show - EXPO 2020, DUBAI & ABU DHABI
Register Now

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI