We had just arrived back at the Comfort Inn in Hollywood, Florida after seven days at sea aboard the Ruby Princess. This hotel is a major ‘staging area’ for cruisers. While waiting for our room to be ready, I fell into a conversation with an older lady while sitting around the pool. The only natural topic of conversation? “Where are you going on your cruise?”
It turns out, she was a grandmother taking some painfully high number of grandchildren on a five day cruise. Watching these kids, all in their single digits age wise, rip around on a major sugar high, had me dumfounded enough that this lady would put herself through that. What left me even more dumfounded was when she said their first port of call was in Haiti.
I had to ask her to repeat herself. She smiled and said, “Yes, I know. It’s my second time on a cruise that stops in Haiti and I still have mixed feelings.”
We talked about the danger risks in a country full of desperately poor people, ravaged over the past three years by natural disaster and disease. We talked about how people could party it up while people no more than 60 miles away were suffering.
It turns out, danger isn’t an issue because the cruise ship goes to a private, highly secure area on the northern coast. We both agreed with the cruise line’s hard line that tourism is bringing money to the country and to boycott would not be doing anyone a favour.
No sooner had I left the pool area for our room that I’d pretty much blanked Haiti from my mind. Fast forward about three weeks. I was doing some Travel Consultant training and put an option on a Caribbean cruise for some imaginary customers. The first port of call? Labadee, Haiti.
It turns out, Royal Caribbean has been taking cruisers to the north coast of Haiti off and on since 1986. The company has a lease on their private and heavily guarded private resort until 2050. Royal Caribbean suspended use of Labadee in February, 2004 after political upheaval. They put $55 million into improvements at the port and restarting service in January, 2010.
Labadee is located near Cap-Haïtien on the map (click to view full size).
Of course, there are tales of deception. There are claims that many visitors really had no idea they were even on Haiti soil. The port was often advertised as Labadee, Hispanola.
Their 2010 restart was not without controversy. On January 13, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the country, leaving somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 dead. While cleanup and recovery were just getting started and bodies were piled in the streets of Port-au-Prince, Royal Caribbean passengers were frolicking in the warm Caribbean waters not far away.
Turns out, it was a moral struggle for R.C. On one hand, the suffering was of such huge magnitude and so close that you could almost hear the sorrow. On the other hand, continuing to suspend operations would bring cashflow to a halt and hinder the chance to bring relief supplies.
At $6 per tourist paid to the Haitian goverment by Royal Caribbean, it’s not a huge amount of money coming in, but it’s money. The cruise line also employs a few hundred locals at the resort while also allowing a few hundred more to independently sell their wares to tourists. R.C. contributed $1 million to the relief effort and brought pallets full of supplies via their weekly visits.
Reminds of another place that was devastated in the not too distant past. When the twin towers fell in New York City on September 11, 2001, human nature would have had people stay away from Manhattan out of respect for the dead (and the living). It turns out, the best thing for the survivors was to inundate the area with tourists. Afterall, money makes the world go ’round and if there’s no one to spend the money, well…
What about Haiti?
- Simply put, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas.
- One of just two countries in the Americas to designate French as an official language (Canada is the other).
- The two official languages are French and Haitian Creole.
- Nearly 28,000 square KM or just under 11,000 square miles.
- Population somewhere around 10 million.
- Capital city is Port-au-Prince, which is also the largest at around 900,000.
- Currency is the Haitian Gourde. I CAD = 41.29 HTG. Compare with 1 CAD = 39.7 DOP (Dominican Republic Peso).
As of January, 2013, Transat Holidays is offering packaged vacations to Haiti after a 23 year absense. A typical vacation being offered consists of two days in Port-au-Prince and five days along the Côte des Arcadins.
As long as locals are gaining employment and a portion of the money is staying in the country, this is a great start to revitalizing Haiti. I’m sure this won’t be vacation option for the conservative traveller for some time. However, places like Cuba, Panama, and most of Central America would not even be considered as a vacation option just a few decades ago. Now, these have become safe, popular and affordable hotspots.
Charities for Haiti
Of course, you can’t feel good about bringing tourism and economic stability back to Haiti without first making a donation where it’s needed most.
HTFH is a charity based out of Canada that is focused on bringing the people of Haiti the tools they need to get the country back on track.
Their Mission & Mandate
Hearts Together for Haiti provides support to selected communities in Haiti in their self-determination efforts, as they work to build infrastructures and environments focusing on education, health, nutrition, water and sanitation, which will enhance the quality of life.
We work to provide villages with the tools they need to become healthy and self sufficient. Although Hearts Together for Haiti is based on Catholic values, our programs are based on need, and we will provide them regardless of religious affiliation.
HEF is focused on providing education for the youth in Haiti. Public education is non-existent and parents must pay to have their kids go to school. Just $75 provides a full year of schooling for one child. HEF claims that 100% of donations go to Haiti.
Food for the Poor provides emergency international relief to Latin America and the Caribbean. According to their website, this charity put 96.3% of donations directly into relief programs with 2.9% going into fundraising and just 0.8% into administration.