October 28, 2008

Haïti: Using Tourism as a Means for Sustainable Social and Economic Development

As explained in post, Haïti: Pearl of the Caribbean, despite the ongoing problems in Haïti, there are several beautiful destinations for visitors in this unique country. Growing a viable tourism sector could provide Haïti the economic and social tools to resolving many of its development needs. As part of my assessment project, I visited key locations the Haïtian Ministry of Tourism designated for tourism development and was provided with several documents and a presentation that collectively provided details to Haïti's tourism strategy.

The Tourism Ministry's impressive 94-slide presentation provided details of the vision and objectives of the tourism strategy. The presentation included statistical data of the number of tourists who visited Latin America, Central America, and the Caribbean, both as a region and by a few selected countries. According to the statistics provided from the presentation, in 2005, Haïti had 110,000 visitors compared to 3.9 million, 3.7 million, 2.26 million, or 1.5 million in Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Jamaica, respectively. Regarding the number of hotel rooms, Dominican Republic (60,000), Puerto Rico (13,500), Cuba (50,000), and Jamaica (22,500) compared to Haïti's 800 rooms available to house its visitors.

Photo of the Port of Jacmel:
Marc Roger
Haïti's tourism strategy is based on three components: history, experience, and the environment, which provide a strong basis for establish an ecotourism industry. Other strengths to the tourism strategy include establishing a partnership between the Haïtian parliament and municipalities; strengthening private enterprises including private-public partnerships; drafting regional and international cooperation agreements; recognizing the need to train tourism professionals and create a national branding and marketing strategy; and developing channels for research funding.

The tourism development plans I reviewed are very comprehensive regarding urban planning and land use issues, but based on my assessment lack a realistic implementation timeline with measured benchmarks and defined clear accountable results. In addition to defining and establishing benchmarks, I recommend establishing a collaborative partnership among the other Haïtian governmental departments and integrate the tourism development strategy into a national strategy to ensure that tourism is balanced with broader economic, social, and environmental objectives at national and local levels. In other words, the tourism development strategy should serve as an anchor to rebuild and strengthen Haïti's education, health care, private sector, capacity building in the public sector, public infrastructure development and maintenance, and protection and restoration of natural resources.

This national strategy should be based on the knowledge of environmental and biodiversity resources and integrated with national and regional sustainable development plans. It should also enhance prospects for economic development and employment while maintaining protection of the environment.

To achieve maximum success, the planning and implementation process should be completely transparent to all stakeholders including government agencies, civil society, private business, and the general population. Moreover, the Haïtian government should encourage the development of partnerships with primary stakeholders and provide stakeholders with ownership shares in projects and a shared responsibility for success.

Photo of Ile à Vaches: Marc Roger
Branding and marketing is essential in promoting tourism in Haïti. The first step is defining a "corporate image" to promote a positive view for Haïti, in particular in terms of safety and security for travel and tourism. In addition, marketing various activities as part of an ecotourism package will provide value for the visitor.

Another hurdle the government will have to overcome is financing the strategic plan. By partnering with international aid agencies, foreign governments, the private sector, and most importantly, the Haïtian Diaspora abroad should engage in financing the implementation of the tourism plan. I recommend creating a foreign equity fund that will allow the Diaspora to collectively contribute and participate in developing and implementing the tourism strategy. Through this fund, the Diaspora will have an opportunity to take an active role in their home country's development while receiving a financial return to their investment.

The Diaspora would contribute up to 70 percent of the fund's assets while the Haïtian government, whether through financial reserves or foreign assistance, contribute the difference. A financial holding corporation would be formed with government officials and representatives from the Diaspora community serving on the board and third-party managers managing the assets.

Photo: Marc Roger
Despite the ongoing crises in Haïti, there are several great places to visit. I am impressed that the Haïtian government has a vision to grow an ecotourism industry and I appreciated the opportunity to assess their strategic plan. With the right tools and tactics, this strategic plan should serve as the centerpiece to a national sustainable development strategy.

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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