Haiti looks to reinvent itself as tourist destination
By Toni Marshall
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted June 11 2006
They boarded a plane, took a boat and relaxed on a tiny island with thatch hut bungalows, tropical drinks, clean sand and turquoise waters.
It wasn't Puerto Rico or Hawaii or Aruba.
It was Haiti.
"We want to go there and buy land and retire. This is how wonderful an experience we had," said Kafe-Pascal Garoute, an artist and musician from Lauderhill. She and her husband, Christian "Kristo" Nicholas, recently returned from vacationing on the island.
For the first time in decades, promoters are mounting a major campaign to market the Caribbean nation as a vacation destination.
There's already three billboards in South Florida that advertise the island as a tourist spot.
MWM & Associates, a privately owned Miami-based promoter, hopes its billboards and sponsorship of the Second Annual Haiti Tourism and Economic Development Summit in Miami Beach starting June 23 will ignite more interest in Haiti as a vacation destination.
Haitian President Ren√© Pr√©val is expected to attend the event.
"A new generation is growing up in the United States that have no reason to go to Haiti if we don't prepare Haiti for their return," said Magaly Prezeau of MWM & Associates.
"What better way than to make Haiti their tourist destination, for students to go to for Spring Break and for grandmas to retire."
A billboard at Northwest 27th Avenue and Sunrise Boulevard, just west of Interstate 95 in Broward County, shows sunny skies, a blue water beach and an inviting chair in contrast to the typical depiction of Haiti, where chaos looms and killings and anarchy appear to be an everyday thing.
Prezeau's company wants to change Haiti's negative image. They've spent $250,000 and plan to invest up to $1 million on advertising campaigns.
More than 112,000 tourists and roughly 369,000 cruise ship passengers visited Haiti in 2005, according to the country's Department of Tourism.
Since 1986, Labadee on Haiti's northern coast, has served as a stop for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.
Haiti has about 1,000 hotel rooms, two international airports and some smaller airports.
Neighboring Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, made more than $5.2 billion from tourism in 2004.
Haiti has a long way to go, said author Anthony Hattenbach, 68, who lives in Miami. His family owned two resorts in Haiti.His recently released book, Stars Over Haiti, tells of celebrities and others visiting the island to vacation at resorts throughout the late 1950s until the late 1980s. Pr√©val was elected in February and took office last month.
"Now that Haiti has gotten successfully through these elections, there seems to be at least now a reduction in the violence" said Susan Purcell, an expert in Haitian affairs at the University of Miami.
The U.S. Department of State continues to issue warnings to individuals traveling to Haiti."I don't think [the warning] is valid anymore," said Ralph Latortue, vice consul general for the Haitian consulate in Miami. "There were some kidnappings in Port-au-Prince, but the rest of the country has been secure."
Garoute and her husband went to L'Isle a Vache, a tiny island off the coast, accessible only by boat. They swam in a waterfall in Saut Machurine. They climbed mountains and snorkeled, she said. "It was almost as if you were walking back in time," Garoute said.