A Haitian tourism minister to match its potential
JEAN H. CHARLES
Published: Nov 02, 2011
I wrote a column two years ago where I stated that I have found in Haiti three women who deserved the gold standard of summum bonum: Martine Deverson, who created Artisanal en fete, by bringing together once a year all the Haitian artists under one roof; Stephanie Balmir Villedrouin, who almost individually gave life to the ATA, the association of hotel owners; and Danielle St. Lot, who put the Haitian artists, the culinary specialists and the organic plant growers together.
President Joseph Michel Martelly and his Prime Minister Garry Conille were smart enough to select one of them, Stephanie Balmir Villadroin, as their minister of tourism. Haiti will have at last a minister of tourism to match its potential.
Indeed, Haiti’s potential to become a tourist destination is immense. I was at the Club Med in the Dominican Republic at the Romana, when I met a group of tourists from Brittany in France, who share our common culture; we have been educated by the priests and the religious brothers and sisters from Brittany, as such creating a natural bond. One of them told me upon knowing that I was from Haiti, he wished he was in a Club Med in Haiti, because the culture is stronger, the hospitality is larger and the view is better.
It has been a common opinion of the travel connoisseurs that Haiti, in spite of its pitfalls, is a destination that can rival Bali in Indonesia or Valencia in Spain. Haiti’s governance has been so delinquent in its performance that it could not achieve, nay, come close to its potential in tourism. The last minister of tourism, as well as his general director, was bartering for the last eight years a master plan that never reached the stage of application even at the elementary level.
Yet the calendar of cultural activities that the Haitians themselves have developed is rich in ritual, in meaning and in significance for the diaspora as well as for the foreigners.
Take a peek.
Haiti’s cultural richness
From May 1 to November 1, the day of All Saints as well as the following day, the Day of the Dead, Haiti is alive with a vibrant succession of religious festivals for the patron saint of the cities, the towns and the rural villages. This phenomenon is reminiscent of the medieval era where the pilgrims in penitent clothing travelled from St. Jacques of Compostello, Spain, to the Saint Sepulcher in the Holy Land, Israel. The pilgrims would keep the Christian face intact except that voodoo syncretism has crept into the celebration, giving color, sometimes squalor to the fiesta, repulsive for some and amusing for others.
Haiti did not leave the medieval era, the clock has stopped there.
From November 2 to Christmas Day we enter into the season of Noel that could be as splendid and as festive as our neighbor next door in the Dominican Republic. The Dominicans, those from home as well as those from the diaspora, started their weekend on Wednesday during that season with all the party and the fireworks that go along with it.
From December 26 to January 12, the country should institute an International Solidarity period with Haiti. It was only two years ago that a strong earthquake destroyed the capital and the surrounding areas. To commemorate that event, when more than 300,000 persons perished, the rest of the world can demonstrate its solidarity with the people of Haiti by visiting and performing some charity works in the country, with specific projects worked out in advance by the ministries of tourism, culture and social affairs.
From the second Sunday of January to Ash Wednesday, Haiti enters into the Carnival season that was cancelled only twice during in its lifetime. One of them was during the year of the earthquake in 2010.
Trinidad and Tobago, eat your heart out. Haiti is coming after you to rival the throne that you occupied for so long during carnival time. Young and old, rich and poor give themselves up to enjoy, party and make merry all weekend. Haiti has a president that used to be the king of the band leader during carnival time; will he lead the parade of the revelers? Come to Haiti during Carnival to find out.
A dynamic tourism product
From Ash Wednesday to Good Friday, the Rara season, or the carnival of the peasants, takes place. It is an underground movement that is frowned upon by the good people of God. Indeed the Rara revelers in their songs and their dance blame God and their government for keeping them in such a destitute state. No one pays attention to their supplication. Maybe this government will; it has already taken the necessary measures to institute free education for all children, rural and urban. It has also promised to the farmers low-cost fertilizer for their produce.
It is already Easter and May 1 is around the corner to mark the cultural calendar which, as the sun, will rise to shine for all those who cherish life and happiness.
Villedrouin, am I certain, will be as the minister of tourism of St. Lucia, Allan Chastanet, or the minister of tourism of Jamaica, Edmund Bartlett, amongst the best in the field. She has the stamina, the creativity, the simplicity and the humility to start with what can be done now, and achieve later the potential of where Haiti can reach.
Up to the sky – no limit in sight!