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8748: Travel article in St. Louis Post-Disptach

From: jackie settle <jackiesettle@yahoo.com>

I found this article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on July 1, 2001 in the
travel section.  It was accompanied by a map showing where Haiti is and a
picture of a young girl on the beach in Jacmel, Haiti.  

Ticket to: Haiti

Troubled Caribbean country pins its hopes on tourism

By Paisley Dodds - the Associated Press

JACMEL, HAITI -------Fifty years ago, movie stars such as Errol Flynn and
Ava Gardner flocked to Haiti, seduced by the Caribbean country's wild
scenery, glitzy hotels and exotic culture.

It was Haiti's heyday, a time when the country was ranked the Caribbean's
top tourist destination and called the Pearl of the Antilles.

"Our country used to attract tourists from all over the world," says Jean
Elie Mainville, marketing director for the Haitian Association for
Development and Tourism, a branch of the tourism ministry.  "We believe
that can happen again with the right planning and enough money."

Despite the country's mounting problems of poverty, environmental
devastation, political instability and crime, the government is pouring
money into tourism development, an industry it hopes will reverse the
country's dire economic straits and revive interest.

One of its first projects has been in Jacmel.

"We spent a week in the Dominican Republic and will finish up our vacation
here because it is so beautiful," says Luc Danielle Visonneau, 46, of
Nantes, France, walking on the beach in Jacmel.

Unlike the crater-pocked highways that haphazardly blanket much of Haiti,
the road to this palm-fringed, beach town is as good as it gets - smooth
asphalt, little traffic and leading to a place two and a half hours away
from the political clamor of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Jacmel, with its faded French gingerbread houses with vast, vine-covered
balconies, is a relative paradise with its 24-hour electricity, clean air
and a newly built wharf area the government hopes will someday be filled
with cruise ships and tourists. 

Visitors can dine on $8 lobster dinners at local restaurants, dance to
live music at seaside thatched-roofed discos, lounge on pristine beaches,
parade through the narrow streets during February's Carnival or visit the
many artists who live in Jacmel.

One of Haiti's most famous painters, Prefet Duffaut, used Jacmel as a
model city in his magical paintings.

"Jacmel is one of our gems," Mainville says.

The govenment has shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to make
sure the road stays nice, the electricity stays on and tourism gets under
way, but some say the government is getting ahead of itself.

"If you really wanted to attract tourists or investors, the first thing
that you would do would be to fix the road to the airport," says Richard
Morse, operator of the Oloffson Hotel, made famous by Graham Green's "The
Comedians," a novel about Haiti under Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier.

Morse, who is Haitian-American, took over the hotel in the late '80s when
Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier was still in power.  Today only three to
six tourists come to stay each month, Morse says.

"In all of my time here, I haven't met one government tourism official,"
Morse says.  "You'd think that if they were really serious about tourism,
they would come to the courntry's highest-profile hotel."

In his inauguration speech on Feb 7, President Jean-Bertrand Ariside said
that by 2004 there would be 7,000 hotel rooms in Haiti compared to the
current 800, many of which are in establishments plagued by the capital's
inadequate electricity and feeble phone lines.

The Dominican Republic, which shares the same island of Hispaniola, has
20,000 international-quality rooms and an economy that has been visibly
bolstered by tourism.

"We're just waiting for partners," Aristide said at his inauguration.

Haiti, with its faded architecture, pristine beaches and rich mix of
African and french culture, still has many of the attributes that drew
such Hollywoood stars as Flynn and Gardner.

But time is running out for Aristide to convince both investors - and
tourists - that his country is worth a second chance.

In May, Aristide's Lavalas Party won a clear majority in local and
legislative races, but the Organization of American states said the 10
contested Senate seats should have gone to a runoff.

Aristide's government refused, casting doubt on his credibility and
prompting the international community to block aid.

Some $76 million of U.S. aid to Haiti will be channeled exclusively
through non-governmental agencies this year, while the European Union has
blocked nearly $70 million in assistance.

Political instability has increased since, with the opposition refusing to
recognize Aristide's government and naming an alternative president.
Aristide's government has threatened to arrest Gerard Gourgue, a move the
United states has said it would be against.

And then there's the crime.

Since March, two U.S. citizens have been killed and another was kidnapped
and later released.

"A lot of our friends told us to be careful but the people here have been
very open and friendly," said Visonneau, the French tourist who visited
Jacmel, where in January thieves killed two french tourists and their
Haitian driver.  "We love it so far."

Krintina Rundquist, spokeswoman for the American Society of Travel Agents
in Washington D.C., says few American tourists ever consider vacationing
in Haiti because of the instability.

"A large part of why Americans aren't going to Haiti is because of the
State Department warnings," Rundquist says.  "The other reason is that
other parts of the world like Vietnam and Eastern Europe are opening up
and getting positive publicity."

Most guidebooks don't even acknowledge that Haiti shares the same island
as the Dominican Republic.  Still, people in Jacmel are waiting for
Haiti's second coming.

"People come here to get a break from Port - au -Prince," says Jean-Ruid
Senatus, co-owner of the Hotel Florita, a small guest house in Jacmel.
"Aristide has promised that things will get better and that's what we're
hoping for, but it's a little bit scary."

The faded white hotel, adorned by flowering vines, Vodou artwork and
antique four-poster beds, lacks tourists most of the time.

But that adds to the town's charm, according to Aurelius la Rochelle and
his wife from Grand Bay, Quebec.  The couple started visiting Haiti in the
early 1970s when Pappa Doc was still in power.

"Back then there was more order, but there was also more fear and
violence," said la Rochelle, 66.  "Now there is hope, and in the long term
I think tourists will come to Haiti because here you feel at home."

On the Internet:  Haiti tourism information, www.haititourisme.com Bureau
of Consular Affairs, http://travel.state.gov 

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