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Haiti: A viable tourist destination?

A joint venture between the Consulate in Miami and the Haitian tourism board advertises the perfect island retreat. But how can Haiti live up to the hype?
Haiti beaches rightsEnlarge
An empty beach is seen in the Ile a Vache, a paradise island in front of the city of Les Cayes (the south-west area of Haiti) in 2010. Before the earthquake, tourism was increasing in this area but since the catastrophe, the tourism has been slow to the island. That may be changing as hope grows that Haiti can turn its tourism industry around. (Clement Sabourin/AFP/Getty Images)

A campaign to advertise Haiti as the next great tourist destination kicked off this week in Miami in the form of a giant billboard along the I-95 expressway, touting the tumultuous country as the place to be for foreign visitors. 

"Live the experience, seize the opportunity," reads the sign, the words alongside an aerial view of white sand beaches and azure water. 

The AP reported that the billboard is sponsored by the Haitian Consulate in Miami and the tourism ministry in Port-au-Prince, just one part of the Haitian government's most recent attempt to re-brand the country and move away from perceptions of poverty, political instability and social helplessness. 

"Haiti... was gradually discarded for the rest of the world because of its economic and political situation. Now, with the determination of the administration Martelly-Lamothe to improve the image of the country through the diplomatic and consular missions, Haiti, land of bravery, dignity and freedom, will regain his crown of yesteryear," said François Guillaume II, the Consul General of Haiti in Miami, according to HaitiLibre.com

The land of "dignity," however, is still besieged by the travails of the post-quake recovery effort. Housing is still a massive problem, and a cholera epidemic only just receeded. Meanwhile, the government is still disorganized and prone to screw-ups, ala a missing chuck of international aid money that's nowhere to be seen over two years after the earthquake. 

Internationally, Haiti remains a favored charity case, and turning that image around will take time and effort.

The LA Times' Allyn Gaestel raised an important point in this vein in his July article about the need for tourism in Haiti: "Who wants to sip a rum cocktail knowing that, just down the road, malnourished children are languishing in tents?"

But, besides these possible roadblocks, many high-ranking Haitians share the view that the fight to bring Haiti into the 21st century as a Caribbean tourist hotspot is far from over. Investments, capital, and construction in the tourism industry are flowing to the island, as much as money for rebuilding efforts has been routinely mismanaged. 

More from GlobalPost: The ghosts of Haiti's Hotel Oloffson

Multiple large hotel chains are planning Haitian outposts, including Comfort Inn, Best Western, and Marriott, according to Haitian ambassador Paul Altidor, who spoke on the topic to USA Today in June. He also mentioned the pending construction of The Oasis hotel complex, a "$35 million hotel that will feature 130 rooms, three restaurants, and 14 shops."

"We're trying to move away from survival mode to investment mode," Altidor said. "We're not convinced that sending humanitarian aid to Haiti is going to push us out of this poverty hole. We're looking for capital and knowledge."

In the past, Haiti was dubbed "the Pearl of the Antilles" after a tourism boom in the 1940s and 50s, according to the LA Times. However, after the despotic rule of Francois Duvalier, the international jet-set shied away from the country. Then, in the 1970's, when Jean "Baby Doc" Duvalier took over for his father, tourism saw a slight boost, but decreased again with the spread of AIDS in the 1980s. 

President Michel Martelly is hoping upper- and middle-class Haitians who escaped the rubble post-earthquake and tyrannical previous governments will return and invest in the economy, giving it the boost it needs to really get off the ground. Thus far, says the LA Times, tourists have mainly been aid workers, humanitarians, and members of the Haitian diaspora visiting family. 

More from GlobalPost: Haiti's new "bad boy" president

But more visitors are needed, as well as investors. Tourism creates jobs and has a huge impact on the local economy. And after failed attempts to jumpstart Haiti as a destination, the third time may be the charm.

Photo via HaitiLibre.com

For more of GlobalPost's coverage of Haiti, check out our Special Report "Fault Line: Aid, Politics and Blame in Post-Quake Haiti."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/rights/haiti-tourist-destination-the-moment

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