Stephanie Villedrouin, Haiti’s dynamic Minister for Tourism and Creative Industries, made a stop in Boston this month to spread the good news about Haiti’s burgeoning travel and hospitality trade. Already buoyed by an 11 percent increase in tourist visits over the last year (2013-2014), Minister Villedrouin carried more good news to Haitian-American community leaders and media, many of whom turned out to a Brockton country club for an evening presentation on June 3.
“We are on the right path and all stars are aligned for Haiti to be successful in the tourism field,” Mrs. Villedrouin told the Reporter in an interview. “We’ve got a lot more diaspora coming back to Haiti and new people intrigued about Haiti.”
Villedrouin was joined in her visit by a team of Haitian hoteliers, including Charles Fombrun, owner of the popular Moulin Sur Mer Beach Resort in Montrouis and Christian Fombrun, Food and Beverages Director for Kinam Hotel on Pétion-Ville.
Also on hand for the Haiti Road Show was Ioulia Iaroch of Decameron Hotels and Resorts, a large international company that specializes in high-end, all-inclusive beach resorts. They have purchased the Indigo Resort, also in Haiti’s Montrouis region. Decameron has just launched an $8 million project aimed at making significant upgrades to the beachfront property, which will re-open in November 2015 as the Royal Decameron Indigo.
All three hoteliers showcased their individual properties, but also struck a harmonious chord: Haiti is not only open for business and pilgrims, but for leisure travelers looking for a convenient, affordable and family-friendly vacation option from the United States. Haitian-Americans, it is clear, are the big demographic that the ministry and the industry hope to lure.
This summer presents itself as a key test of that market, with Boston coming online as a new— and potentially important gateway for US travelers. With JetBlue launching twice-a-week direct flights between BostonLogan and Port-au-Prince, the tourism sector is keen to reach out to a potential new pot of travelers who could find a non-stop flight to Haiti and its top-flight hotels and beaches a new alternative in the Caribbean.
The JetBlue gateway from Boston was one of the reasons behind Villedrouin’s personal visit.
“I think JetBlue is going to be more aggressive in the air connectivity market, serving new emerging markets as the Boston market,” said Villedrouin. “Because of the number of people originally from Haiti in Boston, I do believe there is this demand. It’s a seasonal flight for four months and I’m confident with this road show and all these people, they become my ambassadors.
“It’s in our hands to make it happen, it’s in our hands to make it work. The message is not just on my shoulders, it’s on the shoulders of everyone who loves Haiti and wants Haiti to be successful through tourism, to visitors and that’s the only way that we can pick up sustainable development for the country,” said Villedrouin.
In addition to the new investment by Royal Decameron, there are several other milestone moments for Haiti’s travel sector that Villedrouin and other speakers highlighted in their presentation and in interviews:
• The opening of the first-ever Marriott branded hotel (highlighted in this month’s Reporter), which was built by Digicel owner Denis O’Brien. The $48 million hotel, which has opened softly to strong reviews in recent months, brings a new option for business travelers and is located in the Turgeau neighborhood of Port-au-Prince.
• The imminent arrival of the Caribbean-wide music and cultural exposition Carifesta, which will be staged in Haiti for the first time ever in August 2015. The nine-day celebration of Caribbean culture is expected to bring with it a flurry of new, first-time visitors from the Caribbean and beyond. It will be staged in Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haitien, Les Cayes, and Jacmel from Aug. 21-30.
• A new Hilton hotel will be built beginning next year close to the airport in Port-au-Prince and two new hotels are planned for Cap Haitien, Villedrouin explained.
“Definitely next year will increase more because of the Decameron coming in and the fact that we are listed in 15 tourism operator brochures,” said Villedrouin, who cited her department’s persistent work in promoting Haiti at international trade shows over the last three years. “I’m proud to say it because it’s taking existing facilities, enhancing it, investing in it and partnering with real tour operators. This project is putting us back on the tourism map."