Could Tourism Help Save Haiti?

January 23, 2010 at 11:43 pm | Posted in Caribbean/Bahamas/Bermuda, cruising, Haiti, travel industry | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

by David Paul Appell

The brouhaha that’s erupted in the past several days about the “questionable taste” of Royal Caribbean bringing its passengers to a leased beach at Labadee (aka Labadie), on Haiti‘s north coast, is a good example of the inevitable awkwardness in overlaying leisure tourism from generally wealthy countries onto an impoverished and shattered country where people are suffering and starving right outside gated resorts. For example, more than 20 percent of respondents to a poll said that in the wake of the recent catastrophe they felt it was inappropriate to be enjoying themselves on the beach with such devastation and deprivation beyond the fence.

But consider: this juxtaposition is just a particularly extreme and in-our-faces example of the phenomenon already taking place every day of the year in countries from Mexico to Cuba to Senegal to the Philippines. Indeed, just across the border in the Dominican Republic, plenty of Americans, Canadians, Europeans, and others prosperous enough to afford an overseas vacation guiltlessly sip piña coladas and frolic in the surf while most Dominicans live lives of, shall we say, great simplicity — and certainly no foreign beach getaways. And yet, these tourists are providing crucial jobs that support a significant chunk of the DR’s population; I doubt most locals would be happy to see them go away.

Most Haitians themselves understand this, and similarly very much want the cruise ships and tourists in general to keep coming. In the meantime, one Cruise Critic respondent even suggested ways on the site’s message board that cruisers can go that extra mile to help while at Labadee, including:

– Add a few bucks to the asking price when buying souvenirs.
– Tip generously.
– Eat a big breakfast on the ship, bring a snack with you, and don’t partake of the lunch
served on the beach — the leftovers will be donated to the locals.
– Go on a shore excursion whose proceeds are earmarked for relief efforts.
– Bring T-shirts and whatever you think appropriate, and leave them for charity.

In addition, in a larger and longer-term sense, the extent of this month’s earthquake devastation has the potential, at long last, to lead to a more concerted and effective effort to move Haiti beyond the dead end in which it’s been stuck for generations — to start again from scratch, as it were.

And in this I do think tourism can play a significant role, because as I discovered first-hand in a visit a dozen years ago, in this area the country has more to offer than many outsiders suspect. And while Port-au-Prince is probably no-go for the foreseeable future, the rest of the country hasn’t been so affected by the quake, and from what I hear is largely still in business.

Like many Caribbean destinations, of course, there are miles and miles of lovely beaches — there’s a good reason why the cruise ships come to Labadee — and even several nice guesthouses and resorts along the western coast. There are colonial forts — the most impressive of which is La Citadelle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site up in the hills south of Cap-Haïtien, a city which itself has some fine old colonial architecture. Go in for some fine hiking and ecotourism in Parc Macaya national park. Sample some of the Caribbean’s finest rum, Barbancourt, and the tasty and distinctive local cuisine. Explore the fascinating world of voudou, which isn’t witchcraft but simply a hybrid of traditional African religions and Catholicism. And despite their poverty, most of the people I recall coming across years ago exhibited admirable dignity and warmth. All in all, that long-ago trip was one of my most memorable travel experiences.

So once the dust settles and the situation becomes a little more secure, I definitely plan to revisit Haiti and explore some of the areas I haven’t seen before. If you yourself don’t want to go that far, there are other ways to support peace and prosperity through travel and tourism — for example by writing to Choice Hotels to encourage the company to follow through on its plans to open two hotels in the charming Victorian south-coast town of Jacmel. This disaster, horrific as it is, can also be a great opportunity to rebuild a beautiful country and culture that has suffered long enough. And as travelers and citizens of the world, we have the opportunity to help in a direct and concrete way.

More info:

photo: iStockphoto

Blog at
Entries and comments feeds.