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
“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
“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
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
“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.