Tourism in A Time of Need
The Caribbean has always been fascinating; its natural resources attract people from around the world. Tourism as we know it today started in the Caribbean by shipping companies in the quest for recreations for their crew and other people on board. Pickford and Black Steamship Line, a Canadian shipping company, operated between Halifax and a few ports in the Caribbean, including Havana, Cuba and Cap-Haitien, Haiti. It was one of the leading shipping companies at the time and encouraged people to travel with them by creating brochures to promote scenic attractions of their ports. In 1938, it was reported that the West Indies and Central America added $33 million revenue from the tourism activities; the amount represents 20% of the American tourism dollars (The Golden Age of the Haitian Tourism). The government of Haiti, in the following year (1939), for the first time understood the need of creating an environment to attract more tourism dollars, and the Haitian tourism sector was born.
We are now in 2020 where technology and innovation are leading the way and impacting many industries. However, during one of Tourism Innovation Summit’s webinars, Shaina Silva, Haitian American Entrepreneur and the founder of She_Builds Initiative, stated that before we can talk about technology and innovation, we have to do an internal audit of ourselves and understand what went wrong. We’ve been talking about this for years, for decades, but we haven’t really moved the needle very far and so, slapping on tech would be a bandage on a big wound that wouldn’t last for long. She continues to say; “One of the first things that we absolutely need to do is HOUSE CLEANING.” That can be done in multiple ways, and that could also become an opportunity for stimulating local tourism and diaspora focus.
More than ever, we need to focus on an industry that can create jobs and influence Haiti’s economy in the best way possible. Some may argue that tourism is not necessarily what the country needs right now, given the current situation that impacts the sector more than any time in history. Nevertheless, Tourism is still happening everyday in the country regardless if it is obvious or not. While some people might want to exclude Labadee in the equation, over 100,000 tourists already experience this space this year, and each of them paid the government up to $12. This is only one of many invisible aspects of the tourism sector in Haiti. Also, we can mention the business tourism exchange that exists between Haiti and Cuba. According to Sunrise Airways, approximately 216,000 passengers traveled from Cuba in 2018, and they expect this number to increase to 300,000. These travelers are what we call business tourists, and these numbers do not include many Haitians living abroad who travel every year to Haiti.
Tourism industry is important for the benefits it brings and its role as a commercial activity that creates demand and growth for many more industries. Tourism not only contributes towards more economic activities, but also generates more employment and revenues, and plays a significant role in development. There’s no doubt we have a long way to go, and a lot of important decisions to take. Nevertheless, we need to protect this sector and strategically work with the government and the private sector to nurture interest between different actors and tourism leaders in the region. The future of Haiti’s tourism lies with each and every one of us.