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Haiti campaign angles for tourism dollars

By Nadege Green, The Miami Herald (MCT) Modified: November 18, 2012 at 11:58 pm •  Published: November 19, 2012
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“As far as any traveler knows, Labadee is not Haiti,” said Turkel, the marketing expert. “If you travel to Labadee, you're getting a generic Caribbean experience.”

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Haitian officials and Royal Caribbean have discussed creating packages to take Royal Caribbean passengers into other parts of Haiti in recent years, but no plans have been announced. Spokespeople for Royal Caribbean did not return calls or emails for comment.

Tourism officials also hope to attract Haitian transplants and their American-born children who may never have visited their parents' homeland.

“This campaign also aims to attract the second generation of the diaspora, the young professionals that know about Haiti only by their parents or grandparents,” wrote Stephanie Villedrouin, Haiti's minister of tourism, in an email.

The country's new logo, unveiled earlier this year, features a red hibiscus and a yellow sun. The flower may have little significance to non-Haitians, but to Haitians it's recognizable as the national flower of their homeland.

“When you have limited funds like Haiti, you look at the audience with the highest propensity to go there,” Turkel said, adding, “It's no different than targeting American Jews to go to Israel.”

But some say the pitch to a diaspora that already shoulders heavy economic responsibilities is not without some challenges.

While many Haitians in the diaspora visit family - and frequently send money home to pay for things like school and medical care - few consider spending disposable income on hotels or car rentals.

Madsen Marcellus, an attorney who lives in Pembroke Pines, Fla., visits Haiti at least once a year to see his family. When he visits, he said he it is not for leisure.

“Haiti is not a vacation for me; it's more like giving back,” he said, adding, “Instead of building tourism, I think first we need to build an infrastructure. We need to build schools.”

Marcellus said he vacations in Jamaica because “it's vacation central. That's what they do, and they do it well.”

Jean Souffrant, a community organizer based in Miami, recently visited Haiti on a service trip with other young Haitian-Americans. The group did not rent hotel rooms; they shared a living space with a host family.

Souffrant said members of the Haitian community feel reluctant to spend money on leisure activities when family members and friends in Haiti can barely support themselves and struggle day-to-day.

“We have to take the reality of Haiti into consideration when you want someone to spend $200 a night on a hotel,” he said.

And even though Haitian officials say they want to target non-Haitians, it may not be an easy sell.

Modern travelers are accustomed to convenience. A click of a mouse can create a one-week vacation plan that includes hotel, flights and excursions. But many of Haiti's hotels and tour operators are not even online. The few that are often have websites that simply direct visitors to call a long-distance landline.

“Once we have the online structure, it will become more accessible,” said Francois, who said the ministry of tourism is in the early stage of developing an all-inclusive package for Haiti travelers.

“We are pushing Haitian businesses to get into social media and online,” he said.

Business entrepreneurs investing in Haiti are optimistic.

The government recently asphalted a new 7,500 feet runway in the city of Cap-Haitien, part of a $500 million tourism vision for the northern region of the country. In Jacmel, the government has committed $40 million to a multi-million dollar tourism development plan that includes a new, expanded airport runway and additional hotel rooms. There are also plans to do a tourism free-trade zone in the island of Ile-a-vache off the southern coast.

The new runway in Cap-Haitien offers a chance for Haiti to make parts of the country other than Port-au-Prince accessible.

American Airlines, one of the leading carriers providing flights to Haiti, said it may consider offering services to Cap-Haitien in the future. Past American Airlines officials have maintained that half of their traffic to Haiti ventured outside of the capital.

“We believe that the development of the aviation infrastructure is a positive development for the country and its continued tourism and economic development,” Martha Pantin, an American Airlines spokesperson, wrote in an email.

Business owners on the ground in Haiti are hopeful, but worry about how the country will be marketed in the coming years.

The Bike Ayiti Project is working with Tour Haiti, a Haiti tour company that specializes in adventure and cultural tourism.

“All of the Caribbean have beaches, but we have a history and a culture to sell,” said Lionel Pressoir, owner of Tour Haiti. “Haiti has to establish its vision to be successful.”

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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