World Tourism Day was last Friday, September 30. A little late, but to honor it I will be posting an article that I translated for our “Translation Open Mic” that we do every few months with the Madison Area Interpreters and Translations group. This article is especially pertinent to me now because my next trip to Haiti is this November 1st. We will be experiencing the new all inclusive at Royal Decameron, then moving up to the north to stay in Dondon, then Cap Haitian.
See the original article (in French) here.
Sept 6, 2016 Carl-Henry Cadet, from Le Nouvelliste.
The uncertainty with the election could erase the encouraging prospect of tourism in Haiti. But, it still is projected to be one of the most promising areas for economic development over the next ten years. Predictions by the World Tourism Organization on this issue could not be more accurate: “In 2015, the tourism and travel sector accounted for 3.5% of GDP. According to estimates, its activities are expected to grow 1.6% in 2016 and 4.5% over the next ten years (2016-2026), representing 3.8% of GDP in 2026.” This potential gains attention to foster new investment and jobs. It has the potential to earn annual revenues of more than 50 million gourdes in 2026, while last year, the sector earned less than 35 million gourdes. These projections are encouraging, but do not take into account the magnitude of the current political instability and its effects on society (decreased security, particularly in the main urban areas). Since the beginning of the last fiscal year, business, state revenues, and investment capacities have plummeted. The current election cycle, which started in 2015 and has been postponed until January 2017, has been the longest since prior to 1986. And according to observations from the Haitian Institute of Statistics and Information (IHSI), this process creates an environment of uncertainty, which is detrimental to economic activities. Therefore, if this socio-political climate makes potential visitors hesitant to visit the country, it will have a considerable negative effect on the increased interest in tourism which has been growing over recent years.
Since the day after the 2010 earthquake, the tourism and hospitality industry has never been better. The supply is there. Renowned foreign companies settled in, small and medium inns opened, tour operators and new airlines have positioned themselves on the market, existing hotels have improved, increased their staff, etc. Between 2011 and 2015, a total of 2,686 rooms were built or under construction, and 100 new apartments were built, according to figures from the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Industries (MTIC). Overall, there’s 452,630,667 US dollars at stake for the private sector in tourism and hospitality. Also, under the Martelly administration (2011-2016), the government focused more on the tourism sector. The amount of public investment programs gives an idea of how much was invested in this sector during this period: 0.1% in 2011, 0.1% in 2012, 0.3% in 2013, 2.1% in 2014, 1.2% in 2015 and 0.9% in 2016. Altogether, that’s 3,181,225,084 gourdes. Additionally, the MTIC was one of the few departments that had the privilege of stability over these 5 years, with one single minister running it. The leaders’ growing interest in the sector can also be seen at the institutional level. Since 2014, the ministry has added a new interest. In addition to tourism, it now heads the development of creative industries, a new “support” industry which includes crafts and artistic production. Over the last few years, growth was also meeting with the tourism demand. Overall, the country had created a better image for itself. The number of visitors over has been rising since 2011, according to World Bank statistics. The number of tourists grew from 348,755 in 2011, 349,237 in 2012, 419,736 in 2013, 465,174 in 2014, and 515,768 in 2015. And for tourism from cruises, there were even larger numbers. The number of these tourists grew from 596,262 in 2011, 609,930 in 2012, 643,634 in 2013, 662,403 in 2014, and 673,501 in 2015. That said, everything isn’t quite perfect in the sector. The truth is that many glaring structural weaknesses remain, such as delays in the country compared to its Caribbean competitors. In the worldwide report on tourism and travel competitiveness from the Economic Forum, Haiti was still in last place in the Latin American and Caribbean region. This document urged the country’s leaders to address the many shortcomings within the sector, including those relating to the overall environment and infrastructure, as well as natural and cultural resources. Still, efforts made in recent years have enabled the sector to generate, according to the MTIC, around 16,676 jobs (more precisely, 4,169 direct jobs and 12,507 indirect jobs, with an average of 3 indirect jobs for each direct job created in the sector). What’s even more apparent is that this momentum has created a lot of hope. The most optimistic Haitians hope for a return to the glory days of Haitian tourism, the “Belle Epoque” of the 60s and 70s, long before the specter of political instability had come to settle in the Haitian landscape for good.
But now, the threats have returned. The largest problem is the waiting game that is widely felt among economic agents, and also spreads slowly but surely to the country’s potential tourists. This raises fears not only of a decline in activities for this year, but also halts the ambitions to change the perception around Haiti’s brand as a destination. Today, Haiti’s tourists are mainly from the United States (70% of travelers), Canada (8.47%) and France (7.89%). Since last year, the embassies of these three countries, faced with unstable and fragile circumstances, have warned their citizens about visiting Haiti. Whether the Canadian, American, or French embassies, the key words in the travel notices are not the most welcoming: “alert,” “warning,” “caution,” etc. News from the media also doesn’t help. As was bound to happen with the election season, “Haiti” gets bad press. It won’t be surprising if the current commotion in the country overrides its promotional efforts for tourism. Or tourists, coming from the diaspora or elsewhere, who have experienced “Haiti,” leave with a more confused image of the country. These factors may halt growth in the sector and have depressing results: declining tourism demand, decreased investments, and lack of interest in the reviving destination. Finally, without restoring confidence and the public authority, the elections and the uncertainty surrounding them will lead to the tourism industry and the overall economy paying a price that is higher than what is costs to organize the elections themselves.