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#663: HAITI Monuments
Title: Reviving HAITI'S Paradise.
Subject(s): TOURIST trade -- Haiti; HISTORIC sites -- Haiti
Source: Americas, Jul/Aug99, Vol. 51 Issue 4, p48, 6p, 5c, 2bw
Author(s): Luxner, Larry
With unique resources, this country is poised to compete for
investment capital and a booming Caribbean tourism market
A growing number of adventure tourists are visiting Haiti these days.
They are attracted by the country's original art, impressive
fortresses and other architecture, unspoiled beaches, and vibrant
religious culture, all of which distinguishes Haiti when it comes to
Caribbean tourist destinations. Ernest V. Bellande, special advisor to
the country's Ministry of Tourism in Port-au-Prince, says about two
thousand visitors a week are now crossing the border by bus from the
Dominican Republic, which together with Haiti shares the island of
Although the trend is encouraging, Bellande says that's not enough to
bring back Haiti's tourist industry, which in the 1950s and 1960s was
one of the strongest in the Caribbean. Today, following years of
political violence and miserable economic conditions, only 150,000
tourists a year come to Haiti, including Haitians on family trips.
That compares to the millions of North Americans and Europeans
visiting Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, the Bahamas,
and other Caribbean islands.
Curiously, as late as 1981, Haiti and the Dominican Republic each had
around two thousand hotel rooms. Today, the Dominican Republic boasts
over forty thousand rooms, while Haiti's stock has shriveled to only
one thousand rooms.
"Tourists used to visit Haiti, and go to the D.R. as a side trip. Now
it's the reverse," complains Pierre Chauvet Fils, president of Agency
Citadel]e, one of Haiti's biggest travel agencies. "The political
situation of 1986 onward [the year Jean-Claude Duvalier, known as
"Baby Doc," was overthrown] created a bad image. We had very few North
Americans visiting because of the very bad press. The country suffered
a lot because of one-sided reporting. So now we need a little positive
Nevertheless, the tourism industry is hopeful that Haiti's latest
strategic plan for the development of Cap-Haitien will make the
country more attractive to visitors. The project, launched with
$110,000 from the Organization of American States (OAS), seeks
additional funding from private comparties and foundations.
Haiti's second city, Cap-Haitien had only thirty thousand inhabitants
in 1971. Today it counts over 300,000 and is still growing. A wealthy
capital curing colonial times, the city was burned to the ground three
times--in 1734, 1798, and 1802-and was destroyed again during an 1842
earthquake. Cap-Haitien today suffers the same social and physical
infrastructure problems as the rest of Haiti, though its historic
center is distinguished by some well-preserved, Spanish-influenced
mansions, and it is only twenty minutes by car from some rather
spectacular beaches, and about half an hour's drive from Sans Souci
and the Citadelle.
According to the Ministry of Tourism's rather enthusiastic
projections, Haiti could have five thousand hotel rooms by 2004, and
as many as twenty thousand over the long term--generating thirty
thousand direct jobs and sixty thousand indirect jobs in construction,
services, and transportation.
Haitian-born Claude Larreur, acting director of the tourism unit at
the OAS, insists that those numbers are not pie in the sky. "This
projection is based on the fact that our beaches and other tourism
resources are as good as those of the Dominican Republic, so there's
no reason we couldn't get to those levels," says Larreur. "The
resources are there to make Haiti a first-class tourist destination.
But right now, there are other priorities in Haiti. The resources the
government can earmark for tourism are very limited. This is why we
need external funding."
Despite the difficulties, tourists have been coming to Haiti for
years. Undoubtedly, one of the country's strongest attractions is its
highly original, vividly colorful paintings.
In 1935 U.S. art critic Selden Rodman visited Cap-Haitien and wrote a
play, The Revolution, about Haitian heroes Henri Christophe,
Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Toussaint L'Ouverture. He later became
co-director of the Centre d'Art with American artist Dewitt Peters. In
1948 he opened a Haitian art center in New York to publicize its
merits and over the years has written several books on the subject. In
the late 1960s he directed the painting of the famous murals in the
Cathedral Sainte Trinite by Haitian artists.
Earlier this year, Rodman celebrated his ninetieth birthday at the
Hotel Oloffson in downtown Port-au-Prince. This grand old mansion,
located off the southern end of Rue Capois--a haft-mile from the
Champs de Mars park--is itself a tourist attraction of sorts, with its
imposing gingerbread construction and native art for sale in the
lobby. It was built in the 1890s by the Sam family and is considered
one of Haiti's most beautiful examples of Victorian architecture. In
the 1950s the Oloffson was a hideaway for celebrities like Noel Coward
and Lillian Hellman; author Graham Greene was a guest there, and his
novel The Comedians is set in a hotel modeled after the Oloffson.
Visitors are also drawn to the capital's vibrant Iron Market, named
for its buildings of painted wrought iron, where one may find crafts
and paintings among the fruits and vegetables in a two-block-long
bazaar. Then there are the colorful minivans, known as "tap-taps,"
which, at only fifteen cents a ride, are probably the cheapest and
most interesting form of transportation anywhere in the Caribbean. But
they're not for the faint-hearted and are usually cramped and
suffocating unless one happens to be lucky and get a seat up front,
next to the driver.
When it comes to art, it is difficult to beat Haiti for variety and
value. One good place to start is the Musee d'Art Haitien, which is
located at the intersection of rues Capois and Legitime and has
Haiti's finest native art collection. About five blocks away is
Rodman's Centre d'Art; other recommended galleries are Nader (two
locations, one downtown and the other in the Croix Desprez
neighborhood); Galerie Issa, just down the block from the Oloffson,
and the Damballa Art Gallery, on Magasin de l'Etat.
Other areas of the country that merit promotion include Fort Liberty,
in northeastern Haiti, not far from the Dominican border and quite
accessible to the Citadelle and nearby beaches. The government owen
several thousands of acres there and has a tentative plan to build ten
thousand hotel rooms in the Fort Liberte area.
Cote d'Arcadin, along the Gulf of Gonaives, just north of
Port-au-Prince, already boasts some luxurious resorts, including the
Moulin Sur Mer plantation and Club Med. Aquin Saint-Louis du Sud,
located near Les Cayes in extreme western Haiti, could be the site for
two thousand to three thousand hotel rooms overlooking the sea. Also
nearby is the Grotto of Saint-Gregoire, an important vodoun holy site.
Jacmel, known as Haiti's handicrafts capital, is particularly popular
for its skilled papier-mache artisans and the French Victorian-style
architecture of its houses, with their steep roofs and gables,
turrets, high ceilings, balconies, and rich fretwork embellishment.
If the conditions were right, tourists could also be lured to La
Tortue, a twenty-five-mile-long island off Haiti's northern coast,
whose lonely white-sand beaches were recently voted among the ten best
in the Caribbean by Caribbean Travel & Life magazine.
According to Horace Hord, director of marketing for the
Atlantic-Caribbean at American Airlines in Miami, Haiti "must be
prepared to compete aggressively for the investment capital needed to
provide a better product, but at the same time develop and maintain a
unique product, and pursue and attract a unique consumer." The
country, he concedes, "is not ready for tourists and won't be for a
long time, but Haiti is ready for visitors, both from the [black]
diaspora and sophisticated travelers, who are not seeking today's
Caribbean vacation experience."
Indeed, there is much to occupy such a visitor in Haiti, ranging from
mountain climbing to sunbathing to touring the country's number-one
tourist attraction: La Citadelle. This giant fortification, ordered by
Haiti's self-proclaimed King Henri Christophe in 1813, boasts
twenty-foot-thick walls and sits on top of a mountain near Cap-Haitien
on the country's northern coast. It overlooks the ruins of Sans
Souci--an ornate palace constructed by Christophe, abandoned after the
king's death and nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 1842. Both the
Citadelle and Sans Souci are UNESCO World Heritage sites. In 1984
Haiti's Institut de Sauvegarde du Patrimoine National (ISPAN) began
restoring the complex at a cost of $12 million. The ambitious
undertaking was completed in 1995.
"Originally, the project was the National Historic Park," says
Bellande. "But then something had to be done because, in order to go
from the port to the Citadelle and back, you have to pass through the
city of Cap-Haitien, and it looked so lousy."
To rectify that, the Action Coalition--a Washington-based design
firm--came up with a comprehensive plan earlier this year to beautify
the port at Labadie, a fencedoff sandy peninsula just west of
Cap-Haitien that is used by the Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruise
Lines as a private beach for its visiting cruise ships.
"Our challenge is to assure that in every step of the visit--from the
first step on the dock to the last moment in the Citadelle--the
experience is consistent, authentic, thoughtful, and fun," says T.
Allan Comp, director of the Action Coalition. "This is not an
insurmountable challenge for the people of Cap-Haitien or the
government of Haiti." Bellande says Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines has
pledged to spend $4 million to upgrade Labadie to accommodate its
Eagle-class ships, which weigh 100,000 tons each and can carry
thirty-six-hundred passengers and fifteen-hundred crew members.
"This project was solely dependent on them bringing in that ship once
a week," he says. "They'd also be willing to accommodate three hundred
to five hundred passengers to see Cap-Haitien. What we have in mind is
to shuttle passengers by tenders [small boats] from Labadie to
Cap-Haitien. Once we fill the conditions set by Royal Caribbean, we
can use the facilities to accommodate any cruise line. We've spoken to
practically the whole FCAA [Florida Caribbean Cruise Association].
In 1998, according to government figures, 246,221 cruise-ship
passengers stopped in Labadie--up 22 percent over the 238,429 visitors
in 1997 but still lower than the 250,373 passengers who visited the
port the year before.
"Haiti," emphasizes Suzanne Seitz, a consultant for the Ministry of
Tourism, "is for the adventure tourist. However, the master plan is
aimed at making it a little easier for anyone to get around. It just
needs more infrastructure in place."
Yet Dominique F. Carvonis, general manger of the Moulin Sur Met beach
resort and president of the Hotel and Tourism Association of Haiti,
observes that political bickering and indifference have cost Haiti
years worth of tourism development.
"The opportunities through tourism are tremendous, and you don't need
that much investment. Little by little, you will have investors
coming. That's what we're fighting for."
PHOTO (COLOR): Life remains tranquil around Jacmel, a charming
colonial town nestled along a pristine bay and unspoiled beaches
PHOTOS (COLOR): Although Haiti's northwestern coast, opposite, is
still underdeveloped, in the east, near Cap-Haitien, local fishing
boats often meet oceanliners, above left. On land the preferred
transportation is the colorful tap-tap, left
PHOTOS (COLOR): The Iron Market in downtown Port-au-Prince, above,
overflows with eclectic merchandise from kitchen utensils to fine art.
A vendor shows his work along the road to Kenscoff, a popular market
town near the capital, left
PHOTO (COLOR): Spruced-up tourist attractions in Cap-Haitien, from the
cruise-ship port ...
Spruced-up tourist attractions in Cap-Haitien, from the cruise-ship
port of Labadie, top left, to the impressive Citadelle, will boost the
PHOTO (COLOR): Citadelle, opposite
PHOTO (COLOR): Business is thriving for Cap-Haitien
Business is thriving for Cap-Haitien
PHOTO (COLOR): Thierry Gardere, managing director of Rhum Barbancourt,
left, one of Haiti's best known products, with annual sales of over $6
By Larry Luxner
Larry Luther is the editor of the South American Report and a regular
contributor to Americas.