“Haiti is not a vacation for me, it’s more like giving back,” he said, adding, “Instead of building tourism, I think first we need to build an infrastructure. We need to build schools,” he said.
Marcellus said he vacations in Jamaica because “it’s vacation central. That’s what they do and they do it well.”
Jean Souffrant, a community organizer based in Miami, recently visited Haiti on a service trip with other young Haitian-Americans. The group did not rent hotel rooms, they shared a living space with a host family.
Souffrant said members of the Haitian community feel reluctant to spend money on leisure activities when family members and friends in Haiti can barely support themselves and struggle day-to-day.
“We have to take the reality of Haiti into consideration when you want someone to spend $200 a night on a hotel,” he said.
And even while Haitian officials say they want to target non-Haitians, it may not be an easy sell.
Modern travelers are accustomed to convenience. A click of a mouse can create a one-week vacation plan that includes hotel, flight and excursions. But many of Haiti’s hotels and tour operators are not even online. The few that are often have websites that simply direct visitors to call a long-distance landline.
“Once we have the online structure, it will become more accessible,” said Francois, who said the ministry of tourism is in the early stage of developing all- inclusive package for Haiti travelers
“We are pushing Haitian businesses to get into social media and online,” he said.
Business entrepreneurs investing in Haiti are optimistic.
The government recently asphalted a new 7,500 feet runway in the city of Cap-Haitien, which is part of a $500 million tourism vision for the northern region of the country. In Jacmel, the government has committed $40 million to a multi-million dollar tourism development plan that includes a new, expanded airport runway and additional hotel rooms. There are also plans to do a tourism free-trade zone in the island of Ile-a-vache off the southern coast.
The new runway in Cap-Haitien offers a chance for Haiti to make parts of the country other than Port-au-Prince accessible.
American Airlines, one of the leading carriers that provides flights to Haiti, said it may consider offering services to Cap-Haitian in the future. Past American Airline officials have maintained that half of their traffic to Haiti ventured outside of the capital.
“We believe that the development of the aviation infrastructure is a positive development for the country and its continued tourism and economic development,” wrote Martha Pantin, an American Airline spokesperson in an email.
Business owners on the ground in Haiti are hopeful, but worry about how the country will be marketed in the coming years.
The Bike Ayiti Project is working with Tour Haiti, a Haiti tour company that specializes in adventure and cultural tourism.
“All of the Caribbean have beaches but we have a history and a culture to sell,” said Lionel Pressoir, owner of Tour Haiti. “Haiti has to establish its vision to be successful.”