(AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery). In this July 3, 2013 photo, tourists Kevin Bagley, left, and Meg Quinn, sit in the Karibe Hotel courtyard during their six day visit, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
(AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery). In this June 29, 2013 photo, tourist play pool basketball at Club Indigo beach resort in Montrouis, Haiti.
(AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery). In this June 29, 2013, tourists rest seaside while others wade in the ocean waters at the Club Indigo beach resort in Montrouis, Haiti.
MONTROUIS, Haiti (AP) - The Club Indigo beach resort north of the
Haiti capital was crowded with U.N. peacekeepers, aid workers, diplomats
and missionaries on a recent Sunday. But the only real, live tourists
seemed to be Anne Fournier and her husband.
The young couple from Montreal is a rarity in this
afflicted country. Crime, health scares, hurricanes and the monster
earthquake of January 2010 have badly damaged the tourism that was once a
mainstay of the Haitian economy, attracting the likes of Mick Jagger
and Jackie Onassis.
Now the government is pinning its hopes on a surge
of private investment in hotels and resorts, plus a Venezuelan-financed
$13.2 million airport and new infrastructure on the southern island of
Ile-a-Vache, and an $8 million development of the historic coastal town
The Tourism Ministry's budget has more than
doubled. Under the previous government it was $2 million plus a $1
million loan from Venezuela's PetroCaribe oil fund. Now it's $4.7
million, and Petrocaribe is paying $27 million to finance development on
projects that include Ile-a-Vache and in Jacmel.
It says it has signed off on 15-year tax breaks and
exemptions from import duties for 11 hotel and resort projects costing a
total of $160 million, with nearly $100 million more in the pipeline or
completed. It's also training a force of 53 "tourism police officers"
who will learn Spanish and English and be trained in first aid and
While many in Haiti welcome anything that can
create jobs, some worry that the country isn't ready for a tourist
invasion. For one thing, the Tourism Ministry says it has only 3,200
hotel rooms. For another, medical services are woefully lacking, a point
underscored in U.S. and Canadian travel advisories.
The government hopes to double the number of hotel
rooms in two years. But the critics say Haiti first has to improve its
Sen. Francois Anick Joseph said the country needs
paved roads, drinking water and reliable electricity. "There are a lot
of things that need to be done before we can attract tourists," he said
in a telephone interview.
Tourism Minister Stephanie Villedrouin says Haiti
has to stand on its own feet. "If we want to be a sovereign country, if
we don't want to depend on other countries, we need to figure out
ourselves how to move forward and how to get revenue, and tourism must
be no.1 on the list."
Each hotel room built creates two jobs and four indirect jobs, she said.
Officials say the tourism push will create more
than 1,600 direct jobs and 6,500 indirect jobs. Tourism generated $200
million last year, Villedrouin said. The country's entire budget is $3
Haiti was once a haunt of the rich and famous who
came in search of late-night Voodoo ceremonies and rum-fueled revelry.
But an AIDS scare in the early 1980s sent the tourists packing, and
years of political instability continued to keep them away. Officials
say the 2010 earthquake killed 316,000 people, and a cholera outbreak
nine months later took more than 7,750 lives.
Last year the U.S. State Department designated
Haiti a "major drug trafficking country." Meanwhile, the country faces
tough competition from Caribbean neighbors offering cheaper holiday
Today, the only mass tourism - 600,000 a year,
according to Villedrouin - comes from cruise ships stopping at Labadie
on the north coast where passengers can frolic for a few hours in a
Villedrouin couldn't say how many other tourists came on longer stays last year.
Air Transat, a Canadian charter carrier, flies
weekly between Montreal and Port-au-Prince, and says it has brought in
120 tourists this year on holiday packages in Haiti costing $1,399 to
At the beach in the town of Montrouis, 60
kilometers (38 miles) north of the capital, Fournier sipped juice from a
coconut while relaxing with her husband, Sadrack Duclair, under the
straw-hut canopy. Earlier, they had hired a car and driver to show them
"I knew coming here that it was going to be a big
adventure," said 28-year-old Duclair, who left Haiti as a child and last
visited in 1999. "I think it began at the airport, the first day. After
that I was like, Haiti!"
Fournier, 26, said the tourist shortage has its advantages.
"You can tell that the tourism isn't very developed
yet, and that's the big charm of it," she said. "Everything is an
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