Those who know the country extol the beauty of its beaches and uniqueness of its art, culture, and history. But these features are countered by more challenging aspects.
“It’s a beautiful place, but it wasn’t the easiest trip,” says Ashley McGinnis, who “got away” to the beach for a few days during a volunteer trip. “It takes a while to get around and it’s not cheap.”
Due to poor roads and unreliable government services, hotels assume the costly business of supplying everything from electricity – through generators – to trash disposal.
Visiting the sandy beaches and turquoise waters north of Port-au-Prince can cost nearly $200 or more per night at some resorts. Comparable resorts in neighboring Dominican Republic cost half as much, or less.
While slow, progress has been made in rebuilding Haiti since the earthquake.
Port-au-Prince’s Toussaint Louverture International Airport has received a much-needed facelift, but graffiti reminders of the cholera epidemic that has killed more than 7,000 people since late 2010 are among the first things visitors see when they leave the airport. The government has closed many of the camps that once housed people displaced by the quake, but remaining blue tarp-covered shacks and ragged tents serve as jarring reminders of the miserable conditions in which many Haitians still live.
The government sees tourism as an engine for economic development. But even if it can attract foreign investment, Alex Dupuy, a Haiti-born professor at Wesleyan University, asks how much it will help the impoverished.
Mr. Dupuy drew a distinction between the Haiti tourism industry of yesteryear, dominated by local owners and products, and that envisioned by the Martelly administration.
“Bringing in foreign owners means that the benefits for Haitians will be limited,” he says. “If you have a big chain building a hotel, it’s not in Haiti for the benefit of Haitians. It’s in it for profits. And those are profits that will leave Haiti.”