Bruce Beckham, executive director of Tourism Cares, arrived in Cap Haitien in northern Haiti on Oct. 22, landing on a just-completed runway on a charter flight from Miami to help celebrate the opening of an industrial park that marked a step forward in Haiti's recovery.
Beckham was in good company that day. Heading the delegation were Clinton Foundation founder and former president Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; actors-activists Sean Penn and Ben Stiller; World Travel & Tourism Council President and CEO David Scowsill; Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson; Czech supermodel Petra Nemcova; and American fashion designer Donna Karan, as well as U.S. State Department officials, USAid representatives and U.S. business leaders.
"It was a star-studded delegation, but it was not window dressing," Beckham said. "Everyone there was involved and engaged in helping Haiti.
"Tourism Cares was there because board members Brad Finkle of TripMate, Don Hawkins of George Washington University and Robin Tauck of Tauck World Discovery, who is joining the board in December, set the stage for our participation," he said. "It is a tribute to Tourism Cares' work and the Clinton Foundation's belief that we can be a part of Haiti's restoration and renaissance."
Centerpiece of the "New Day in Haiti" daylong event was the opening of the $300 million Caracol Industrial Park, a venture led by Sae-A, a South Korean clothing manufacturer.
The opening of the 600-acre park, which has provided jobs for 1,000 Haitians, with 10,000 more jobs when the park is fully built, signals a major success in Haiti's rebuilding efforts, according to Beckham.
"Haiti's President Michel Martelly said that it demonstrates that Haiti is open for business," Beckham said.
(Hurricane Sandy, which caused mudslides and flooding in Haiti two days later, did not damage the new park, although it claimed two lives in Haiti.)
Beckham toured the massive building, which he described as large as a Costco or a Walmart Superstore.
"People were busy working on sewing machines," he said. "The conditions were excellent. There were fans going and another kind of system, not air-conditioning, to cool the air."
A project to build 750 concrete-structure basic homes near the park to house the workers is in the works.
"Tourism Minister Stephanie Villedrouin and I spoke about how Tourism Cares could collaborate with the Clinton Foundation and Haiti in providing advice and intelligence on tourism practices, service standards, infrastructure help. That's what we can bring to the party," Beckham said.
Villedrouin is "very excited that Tourism Cares is interested in helping Haiti evolve its tourism product," Beckham said. "She has a lot of tourism knowledge and is enthusiastic about the industry.
"While Tourism Cares gives out grants and is involved in cleanup projects here in the U.S., our giveback project in Haiti is really about giving help and hope," he said. "We have made a proposal to the Clinton Foundation to provide knowledge and expertise in partnership with WTTC."
The Haiti program would be part of the Global Outreach initiatives that Tourism Cares launched in May in a program in Peru.
"Haiti is one of a few destinations we are looking at where we could do the most good," Beckham said.
He acknowledged that this would all take a while.
"This trip was exciting and the experience eye-opening. Everyone was enthusiastic, but there is a lot to be done. As my mother would say, it's wee steps and slow," Beckham said.
For Caribbean and Mexico news, follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.