The Miami Herald‘s Jacqueline Charles notes how Haiti is trying to relaunch its tourism industry. In a kinder world, one without the precocious introduction of HIV/AIDS to Hispaniola, Haiti would be a tourism hotspot.
Lucio Garcia-Mansilla had long heard about the former Club Med property tucked along the Haitian Riviera, 123 acres lined with lush vegetation and a mile-long expanse of white sand.
But it wasn’t until decades later — when Haiti’s investment climate began to welcome international brands — that the Argentine founder of Colombia-based Decameron Hotels & Resorts would get there.
As Garcia-Mansilla waited, the property’s fortunes changed, usually not for the better: Club Med, the French resort chain, was boarded up in 1987 as the dual threat of an AIDS epidemic and the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship finished off what was left of Haiti’s once-thriving tourism industry and ravaged the economy. It became a virtual ghost town where weeds and algae replaced partying guests at the swimming pool, and a small maintenance crew kept watch from a utility room. Club Med tried again, reopening in 1997, only to close a year later as the economy tanked.
In 2006, the doors opened again — this time as the privately owned Club Indigo, a beach resort whose patrons were U.N. peacekeepers, locals and visitors from the Haitian diaspora. But it struggled even as it used just half of Club Med’s 400 rooms.
Then came Haiti’s monstrous earthquake in 2010, and after that, an aggressive push by Haiti’s new government to promote tourism as an important way to rebuild the shattered economy. International brands including Best Western, Marriott and Spain-based Royal Occidental Hotels & Resorts and NH Hotel Group signed on as investment opportunities beckoned.