Haiti is planning a new international airport and a state-of-the-art ocean liner among ambitious plans to revive its tourism economy following years of political turmoil that plunged the former French colony into abject poverty.
Haitian Tourism Minister Patrick Delatour said the government has recently signed a US$30m deal with Venezuela for the construction of an international airport in Cap-Haitien, its second-largest city.
In December, Royal Caribbean Cruises will start sending its new Oasis of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world, to a weekly stopover at the beach resort of Labadee. Royal Caribbean is spending $55 million on building a cruise ship pier and attractions.
Other plans include the construction of a road linking Labadee and Haiti’s World Heritage Site, a park containing the Citadelle Laferriere fortress and the Sans Souci palace built by Henri Christophe, a leader of the slave revolt that freed Haiti from French rule in 1804.
“In 2011 we will be able to say that Haiti is back on the world tourism map,” Delatour told Reuters.
The mystique of its voodoo culture and sandy beaches made Haiti one of the gems of the Caribbean. Club Med once operated a beach resort here. But successive years of political violence decimated the tourism economy. Grinding poverty also discourages tourism. Some 70 percent of Haiti’s 9 million people live on less than $2 a day.
“One day we hope that our guests will have the opportunity to go to the Citadelle and Milot, when all the conditions are right for that,” RCL chairman Richard Fain said as he toured Labadee with former U.S. President Bill Clinton last week.
Former US President Bill Clinton, now the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, is lobbying foreign investors to look toward Haiti. On a recently visit Labadee and Sans Souci, he said: “There are some really good shops in Port-au-Prince for art of all kinds but there should be a few centers around the country.”
Clinton is also hoping to ease U.S. government travel warnings for Haiti. He also suggested Haiti could lure 4 million visitors a year, putting it on par with the heavyweights of Caribbean tourism, Cancun, Mexico, which last year drew 4.7 million, the Bahamas, 4.3 million and the Dominican Republic, 4.2 million.
Haiti currently receives 900,000 visitors per annum, but about 600,000 of those come on cruise ships and don’t stop over, and an estimated 350,000 are Haitians expats returning to visit family.
John Maginley, Antigua’s tourism minister and chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, told Reuters: “Hopefully they will be able to get the infrastructure to a point where persons will feel comfortable going back to Haiti and visiting.”