Tourists staying away from a chaotic Haiti
Haiti has the history, culture and turquoise beaches to draw masses of tourists. But decades of political strife have kept it from tapping that potential.
BY MICHAEL A.W. OTTEY
PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Outside Haiti's Ministry of Tourism, several
employees were in the parking lot as bullets began to fly. Some laughed
flinched, some took cover behind walls and parked cars.
Across the street, police in Robocop riot gear fired shots into
the air and launched tear gas to disperse thousands of antigovernment demonstrators
advancing on the National Palace.
For the ministry employees, it was another outbreak of street violence that in recent months made their job doubly difficult.
Even when calm reigns, Haiti struggles to attract tourists because
of its image of poverty and despair. When political tumult strikes, tourists
In the current turmoil, tourism is nearly dead, with most of
the visitors being Haitians who live abroad. But the 30 ministry professionals
whose job is to
persuade foreigners to come to Haiti say they are forging ahead.
''We are still promoting Haiti,'' said Pierre Mathurin, director
general of the Ministry of Tourism. ``We are promoting it to the Haitian
community, to the North
American community and to Europe.''
American Airlines operates four flights daily from Miami, one from Fort Lauderdale, one from Orlando, two from New York and one from Boston.
''They don't come empty,'' Mathurin said, but a recent survey of those flights reveals plenty of open seats.
Haiti has great tourism potential, offering turquoise beaches,
ancient castles and a rich mixture of French and African cultures. No other
place in the
Americas has remained as true to Africa, and Haitians are fond of saying Africans travel to Haiti today to find a motherland of centuries ago.
''I think it's a beautiful place, with lots of potential,'' said
Andreea Kvistad, 31, of Norway. `You combine the mountains and the sea,
and you see why it's
Andreea and her husband, John, 38, are a rarity in Haiti these
days. He is a diplomat and she an accountant born and raised in Romania.
They loaded up
their backpacks, flew to the neighboring Dominican Republic, then came to Haiti to take in the sights.
''I like the combination of a laid-back holiday in the Dominican
Republic combined with a culturally interesting place like Haiti,'' John
Kvistad said. ``I would
be bored just going to the Dominican Republic.''
But substandard infrastructure, corruption, political crisis,
drug trafficking, class and racial polarization and many other ills have
long keep Haiti on the
margins of the tourism world.
Today no replacement has been named for Tourism Minister Martine
Deverson after his recent resignation, and the official website that touts
Haiti as a
desirable tourist destination is down.
''Dear visitor,'' reads www.haititourisme.org. ``We regret to inform you that Haiti Tourisme is offline until further notice. Thank you.''
There is some hope ahead, said Georges Belin, director of investments for the tourism ministry.
New hotels are planned, and resort projects are in the works
that may help Haiti get a piece of the tourism action that neighbors such
as the Dominican
Republic and Jamaica enjoy.
According to Belin, upward of 22 private tourism investment projects are in the pipeline.
He said the projects range from a proposed 15-room luxury hotel
in the southern port of Les Cayes to Temptation Beach Resort & Golf
Club, a complex of
five 100-room hotels with a marina, a small airport and an 18-hole golf course. Cost: $126 million.
Belin said a Haitian firm with U.S. investors known as Gonave
S.A. plans to build the complex on state-owned property on the western
half of Gonave
Island, northwest of Port-au-Prince.
He said there's also a firm that wants to reopen the long-boarded-up
Club Med in the seaside village of Montrouis, north of the capital, and
cruise lines have plans to begin docking ships in southwestern Jacmel in August.
But there are doubters.
''For some reason, the government has not done enough to promote
tourism,'' said Jacqualine Labrom, owner and operator of Voyages Lumiére
``They had a big master plan for tourism back in 1990, and most of it has never come to be.''
''It's just so frustrating,'' said Labrom, a native of England.
``The government has not done enough to promote tourism. The potential