Tourism in Haiti is big business and set to get even bigger. Yet while most independent visitors to the country stay with family members or are off-road backpackers, the government is focusing its efforts on high-end luxury travel from North America, Europe and East Asia.
In our Briefing New Pirates of the Caribbean we argue that Haiti's tourism model - touted as the solution to its economic stagnation - is exclusionary and damaging for the poor majority. Multi-million dollar investments that could potentially revolutionise Haiti are being spent on making life much more comfortable for the foreign visitor and the country's elite, cutting most Haitians off from any opportunities to benefit.
Our Briefing features a story on Île-à-Vache, a 20-square mile island off the south-west coast. Declared an area of "public utility" in 2013, the concerns of local residents regarding a proposed tourism "development" project were ignored. Forced expulsions, unlawful imprisonment, threats and beatings followed. In a place where they thought fewer people would be watching, the government rolled out its plans, bulldozing over the rights of local residents and destroying livelihoods in an effort to silence opposition.
These are exciting times for foreign investors in Haiti with their eyes on the prize; business is booming and is only set to get bigger and better. Mining, Free Trades Zones, sweatshop labour and mono-cropping have been pro- moted as post-earthquake solutions to pull the country up by its boot- straps and boost a flagging economy. Direct foreign investment of over $250 million – over sixty times higher than it was fifteen years ago – was injected into Haiti in 2014 alone.
Proponents of private sector in- vestment in Haiti wax lyrical about giving the country what it needs most: cash. Leading the way is the Clinton Foundation which over the past few years has facilitated the visits of more than 100 potential investors or donors. In 2011, the Haitian government launched the Presidential Advisory Council on Economic Growth and Investment to cater for growing interest in the country’s economy – with Bill Clinton as its co-chair.
Taking inspiration from similar development models across the re- gion, tourism has been touted as the solution to Haiti’s economic stagnation. It is the first time the Haitian authorities have given full backing to Caribbean tourism ini- tiatives, underlining the potential of such projects to drive growth and prosperity.
High-end tourism from North American, European and East-Asian visitors is seen as a top priority by foreign investors, the government and the Clinton Foundation. Haiti’s proximity to the USA gives it an edge in that market. As one US tour operator put it, “Haiti is like the Seychelles without the jet lag.”