mardi 22 novembre 2011
But bringing back Haiti's once-thriving tourism sector is one of the cornerstones of the Caribbean nation's economic renewal strategies, the country's new minister of tourism told a Montreal conference last week.
By investing in airports, security and smaller resort hotels that focus on its cultural heritage as well as its beaches, Haiti is hoping to lure some of the 22 million travellers who visit the Caribbean each year, as well as some of the 21 million who visit on cruise ships.
In four years, Haiti expects Canadians to be disembarking by the charter planeload.
"Tourism is at the heart of our economic relaunch and the type of sustainable development that can create permanent jobs," said Stephanie Balmir-Villedrouin at the Quebec-Haiti Business Forum.
"We have beautiful tourist sites across the country that are not exploited," she said. "We have an action plan so that in four years we will have tourism hotels that can receive Canadian tourists in Haiti."
First, however, the government is focusing on attracting members of Haiti's vast diaspora to return for a visit and thereby invest in their homeland.
To assuage security fears, the government is working with major travel agencies to take passengers directly from the airport by bus to their hotel. About 400,000 people visit Haiti each year, half of them members of the diaspora.
Contrary to the massive hotel complexes popular on other Caribbean islands, Haiti plans to build smaller resorts and focus on outings.
"In Haiti we have an added value - our culture," Balmir-Villedrouin said.
Haiti is focusing on two areas: the beach area located an hour north of Port au Prince, which is already home to several hotels, including a former Club Med resort.
And the area around Cap Haïtien in the north, blessed with beaches and the Citadel, the largest fortress in the Americas.
Every year, 600,000 cruise ship passengers disembark in the nearby town of Labadee to enjoy its fenced off beaches; in four months, passengers will start getting off in Cap Haïtien, too.
In a year, the airport in Port au Prince is to have a 2.5-kilometre runway capable of accommodating larger planes. Airports at southern cities like Jacmel and Les Cayes also will get longer runways that can handle 80-seater planes so passengers can fly in directly.
Balmier-Villedrouin concedes security concerns are an issue for many travellers and is working to change that image, although she calls the perception "a myth" - Haiti has some of the lowest crime statics among any Caribbean nations, she said.
"Haiti, yes, it has problems, yes it has poverty, but we're not trying to hide that," she said. "You have to put it in balance - all countries have problems, and so do we - in certain areas.
"But we also have regions with beautiful beaches and great cultural heritage and lovely people. We're going to focus on that."