Three years after encouraging one of the Caribbean’s largest private employers to go into the hotel business to help bring much-needed jobs and tourism to a destitute Haiti, former U.S. President Bill Clinton on Tuesday welcomed Haiti’s first Marriott, calling it one of the best hotels in the country.
“I want to thank Marriott for more than the hotel, more than the jobs, more than the training, more than the income,” Clinton said. “I want to thank them for giving all of you the chance to show the real Haiti to the world that will come to this hotel.”
A $45 million investment, the 175-room hotel is owned by Digicel Group, Haiti’s largest mobile provider. Company founder and CEO Denis O’Brien joined Clinton in inaugurating the 11-story ornate structure in Port-au-Prince’s Turgeau neighborhood, ahead of its official March 1 opening.
“I know lots of people were asking: What on earth is a telecom company doing getting into the hotel business?” O’Brien said. “The idea of investing in this new Marriott Hotel came from Haiti’s great friend, President Clinton... His guiding words to Arne [Sorenson, president and chief executive officer of Marriott International] and myself on this project was, ‘Let’s do this together for Haiti.’ ”
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Haiti has been working to rebuild its hotel stock since its devastating Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake wiped out about 1,000 rooms. Since then, 2,500 new hotel rooms have been built countrywide, bringing the total to 4,322 rooms with the new Marriott, Tourism Minister Stéphanie Villedrouin Balmir said.
O’Brien said Tuesday’s inauguration wasn’t just a proud occasion for Digicel and for Marriott Worldwide, but most important, for the country.
“Today is a celebration of what can be achieved when the right team of people come together,” he said. “By right people I mean all of the 1,100 skilled Haitian construction workers — most of whom are represented here today.”
General contractor Kier, a British firm, hired local subcontractors Arcotec Haiti, which built most of the structure, and Tecina, which built a lower part that includes the kitchen.
Arcotec Haiti CEO Greg J. Figaro said the hotel is a great achievement for the country’s construction sector. It confirms to Haitian workers, he said, “that they are highly qualified builders, who can virtually perform better and faster than imported workers.”
President Michel Martelly, who was joined by Prime Minister Evans Paul and Villedrouin, said the hotel is a testament to his government’s vision of repositioning Haiti on the world’s tourism map. Martelly welcomed Marriott’s emphasis on the use of local products, from soap to coffee, to the locally inspired artwork decorating the lobby. He also noted that it’s the fourth international brand to invest in the country’s growing hotel scene since the earthquake. The hotel is slated to create 200 jobs in Haiti.
Marriott first expressed interest in investing in Haiti with Haitian officials as far back as 2009. The same month the hotel began construction, March 2013, Best Western opened the first internationally branded hotel in Haiti since the Holiday Inn left in 1998. Last year, Hilton Worldwide announced it would open a hotel in 2016 near the airport.
Before ending his most recent visit to Haiti at the Marriott, Clinton visited several Clinton Foundation-funded projects across the country. Reflecting on the hundreds of jobs those projects have generated, Clinton said working in Haiti “has been one of the great joys of my life.”
“If everyone knew this country the way Denis and I do, your incomes would be three times higher than they are, people would be flooding in here every day, and we wouldn’t have had the problems we do,” he added.
In congratulating O’Brien, Clinton told the high-profile invited audience, which also included former Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and actor Sean Penn, that O’Brien was a leading member of the Clinton Global Initiative Haiti Action Network. If all the members in the network keep their promises on behalf of Haiti, it will mean that the group would have invested more than $500 million after more than three years, Clinton said.