Haiti expects Carnival port to spur further tourism development

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Carnival Corp.’s move to build a private port facility in Haiti continues a cruise industry trend of building private enclaves, which the cruise lines say enable them to ensure that their passengers’ experiences on land are consistent with those onboard.

Carnival Corp Private Ports MapIt will be Carnival Corp.’s sixth such facility in the Caribbean. (Click here or on the image for a larger view of a map of Carnival Corp.'s private port facilities in the Caribbean.)

The facility on Tortuga, an island off the northwest coast of Haiti, will be the second such enclave in the country. Royal Caribbean International built its Labadee port facility on a peninsula on Haiti’s north coast in 1986.

Stephanie Villedrouin, Haiti’s tourism minister, said the planned $70 million development on a portion of Tortuga should spur further tourism development on that 69-square-mile island.

Villedrouin said that the government ultimately is planning excursions from Carnival’s enclave into other parts of the island. She said that such excursions are about to begin at Labadee, where Royal Caribbean will offer its passengers trips to the Citadelle, a mountaintop fortress that is both a Unesco site and a Haitian National Historic Park.

Royal Caribbean has not made public a date for when such excursions will begin.

Tourism is a crucial industry for economically struggling Haiti, where per capita income is $810, according to the World Bank.

For proof of tourism’s economic value, Haiti has only to look at the Dominican Republic, with which it shares the island of Hispaniola. The Dominican Republic is the tourism powerhouse of the Caribbean, attracting 4.7 million tourists in 2013, and its per capita income is $5,650.

In contrast, Haiti last year drew 300,000 air arrivals and 643,000 cruise ship passengers, most of whom disembarked at Labadee.

In a statement issued last week, Carnival Corp. said the company had signed a memorandum of understanding for the project. It quoted David Candib, vice president of development and operations for Carnival Corp.’s global port and destination development group, saying, “We are working together with the Haitian people and government to build Tortuga into a popular and economically sustainable Caribbean destination.”

Candib asserted that the project will be the largest cruise industry investment made in Haiti. The venture should employ 900 people directly and indirectly, he said.

“The development will create an exciting opportunity for our guests to enjoy a new, secluded and stunning destination on the island of Tortuga that the company expects will become a highly popular place for guests to enjoy for years to come,” Candib said. “At the same time, this commitment will initially stimulate significant development and construction activities, and then tourism business once the port is open, that will create a tremendous economic impact for the people of Haiti.”

Creating such enclaves as a private island experience enables cruise lines to “control the quality of the product,” said Peter Whelpton, head of Whelpton Consulting. At public ports, he said, local governments and residents control the quality of the product.

Whelpton, a 30-year veteran of Royal Caribbean whose varied positions included vice president of hotel operations and executive vice president, was instrumental in the development of Labadee and its subsequent revamps. He said that building such facilities requires creating such basics as a police force and a water supply.

In return, Royal Caribbean pays a per-guest tax to Haiti, and individual Haitians sell their wares on the site.

“What Carnival is doing for them is the best thing in the world,” Whelpton said of the Tortuga development.

Carnival had no comment about the project beyond the information contained in the statement, noting it is still in the memorandum-of-understanding stage.

However, Villedrouin said that Carnival will build two piers for ships and an airstrip for receiving cargo. Tortuga has a rich pirate heritage, and Villedrouin said the Carnival facility will have a pirate theme. It will also have an artisan crafts market.

“The population of Haiti, at its essence, is very creative,” Villedrouin said. “We will implement a creative village where you can see all types of artisans working and selling their products.”

The island has rich soil, she said, which will enable Carnival to purchase some of the food used in its facility from local farmers through a partnership with Haiti’s agriculture ministry.

Villedrouin described Tortuga as having beautiful beaches and some fortresses, adding that its natural beauty and cultural heritage create the opportunity for excursions throughout the island.

Haiti also has a master plan for other tourism projects around the country, including hotel and resort developments as well as cruise line investments. In addition to interest in the northern coast, international investors are developing resorts on Vache Island off Haiti’s southern coast.

Tourism development generated protests from locals on Vache, but Villedrouin said that the government had met with local residents and had addressed their concerns.

“Today, we have a population that is engaged” in the project, she said, adding that thus far the Vache development has created about 1,000 jobs.

Whelpton said that Royal Caribbean encountered similar concerns from residents when it began to develop Labadee. He said that the cruise line explained its goals and, once Labadee opened, provided jobs. As a result, he said, Haitians in the area became very protective of Labadee.

Critics of such enclaves say that they limit the economic impact of cruise ship passengers on destinations. For example, to maintain a consistent standard of service, many of the ship’s crew disembark with passengers to serve them on land, which means many service jobs do not go to locals.

Ports belonging to Carnival Corp. brands are shared. Half Moon Cay, for example, is Holland America’s private island, and it is operated differently than the other ports. However, Carnival Cruise Lines also uses the facility.

In one instance, Carnival uses one of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.’s private ports as part of Royal’s agreement with the Bahamian government, according to Harrison Liu, manager of brand communications for Royal Caribbean International.

Royal Caribbean markets the facility as Coco Cay, while Carnival designates it Little Stirrup Cay. Only one cruise line calls at a time, so there is no intermingling of guests.
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Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly.

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