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28954: (news) Chamberlain: Tourism in Haiti (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

   Company touting Haiti for vacations

   MIAMI, Aug 21 (AP) -- Imagine gazing at the Caribbean's turquoise waters
from a hammock strung between two palm trees. The hotel chefs who offered
either fresh lobster or shrimp for dinner will soon bring the dishes to the
beach. Cocktails are quickly refreshed.
   An ideal, relaxing vacation -- in Haiti.
   That's the image a South Florida company wants travelers to have in
   "Visit Haiti. Don't listen to what you see on the news," says Wilfrid
Belfort of MWM & Associates in North Miami Beach, which posts details of
the trips at http://www.tohaiti.com. "Visit Haiti, because you are the only
one who can save Haiti right now."
   Recent news from Haiti does not promise relaxation: Gang violence and
kidnappings have surged in the capital of the Western hemisphere's poorest
   But Belfort's Haitian-American-owned company sees increasing tourism as
Haiti's best chance to improve its crippled economy and finally achieve
political stability -- a plan Haiti's new president also proposed at a
Florida tourism conference in June.
   Just 112,000 tourists visited Haiti last year while 4 million came to
its Hispaniola neighbor, the Dominican Republic, President Rene Preval said
at the conference hosted by MWM.
   The company offers all-inclusive, four-day getaway packages to
Cap-Haitien on Haiti's north coast, Cotes des Arcadins on the central coast
and Jacmel and Ile-a-Vache in the south. One upcoming package goes for $499
per person including airfare.
   Ads promoting a "Secret Paradise" in Haitian-American media and on Miami
billboards aren't aimed at adventure tourists or travelers participating in
community service. MWM arranges tours for traditional beachgoers expecting
room service, lounge chairs and drinks with umbrellas; the trips also
include guided sightseeing and nighttime dancing.
   Theonne Armand's hotel room balcony overlooked the beach in Jacmel and
tour guides introduced her to local artists creating masks for upcoming
carnival celebrations when she joined an MWM tour in January. She was born
in Saint-Marc, Haiti, but had never traveled to the southern coast.
   "Everything worked out good, price-wise and the place and the
accommodations," said Armand, a 50-year-old nurse who now lives in
Loxahatchee. "I felt it was very, very safe. Everything you hear is not
happening in Jacmel. It's quiet."
   But an unstable country dotted with exclusive resorts does not appeal to
Kevin Danaher of San Francisco-based Global Exchange, which stopped
offering its immersion tours to Haiti after former President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide's ouster in 2004.
   "We're looking forward to going back when it's safe," Danaher said. "We
don't believe in enclave tourism, because it doesn't show people what the
country is really like."
   Most tourists will likely heed a U.S. State Department warning
discouraging travel to the Caribbean nation. More than 50 Americans,
including children, have been kidnapped in Haiti in the past year, the
agency says.