Last updated: 11:36 AM ET, Wed October 05 2016

Can Haiti's Tourism Survive Matthew?

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | October 04, 2016

Can Haiti's Tourism Survive Matthew?

Hurricane Matthew is dealing a devastating blow to Haiti’s southern coast just as the country struggles to resume a three-year surge in visitor arrivals. Packing 145 mile per hour winds, the storm killed at least one resident and flooded the town of Les Cayes Tuesday, according to according to Haitian media reports.

Matthew created a city-wide electrical blackout and also flooded parts of Port au Prince, Haiti’s capital city. Floods and landslides were reported in Jeremie, Croix-des-Bouquets and Damien, all southern Haiti municipalities. Rising sea levels were also reported in Carrefour along with strong winds in Peguyville.

The storm has felled trees, leveled hundreds of houses and destroyed farms across the region. The National Hurricane Center projected southern Haiti would receive 15 to 25 of rain from Matthew with perhaps as much as 40 inches in some areas.

Mathew’s arrival is yet another blow to the Haitian government’s painstaking efforts to revive a once-significant tourism industry. Still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake, Haiti enjoyed very strong arrivals growth in 2013, 2014 and 2015 only to suffer a sharp decline in early 2016.

This year has been a step back for Haitian tourism. Haiti hosted 141,957 overnight visitors between January and April according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), a 14.5 percent decline compared with 2015. Haiti’s cruise ship arrivals also dropped as the island hosted 284,957 cruise visitors between January and April, a 9.4 percent drop from 2015.

The 2016 data reverses an upward trend that extends back to 2012. Last year Haiti hosted 515,768 visitors, a 10.9 percent increase over 2014. Haiti’s 465,174 visitors in 2014 represent a 9.7 percent increase over 2013, and cruise ship arrivals increased steadily in each of those years as well. Haiti’s combined 2013 land and sea arrivals were a 20 percent increase over 2012.

The reasons behind the 2016 decrease are unclear, but Haiti unquestionably suffered a significant blow to its US market access when Delta Airlines ended its daily Port-au-Prince-New York flights in late April. An airline spokesman cited “decreased demand” in announcing the reduction.

This year’s arrivals drop was unquestionably focused in the US market. Haiti’s US visitors fell 17.5 percent between January and April, while arrivals from Europe increased 34.6 percent in the same period.

Nevertheless, in Pascale Hilare, a spokesperson in the Haitian ministry of tourism, said in an interview earlier this year the U.S. remains Haiti’s primary tourism market, followed by Europe and Canada.

This year’s surge in European visitors is undoubtedly linked to the December launch of the 400-room Royal DeCameron Indigo Beach Resort in Cote des Arcadins. Built on the site of a former Club Med, the property is supported by French and Canadian tour operators, said Hilare.

“With the opening of Royal DeCameron, we are seeing a lot of French coming back to Haiti because they were our first market when Club Med was open in the 1980s,” Hilare said in a March interview. "We see a lot of French coming back. Because of the French language, it’s a natural market for us as well.”

Nevertheless, the US market remains the source of Haiti’s recent tourism success, as indicated by the opening in recent years of the Marriott Port au Prince and Best Western Premier in Petion-Ville. The properties added two brands familiar to US travelers to the country’s inventory.   

The bulk of Haiti’s tourism development is focused in the now-threatened southern coast, directly in Matthew’s path. In the past five years Haiti’s tourism ministry has created partnerships with entrepreneurs to develop $345 million in projects tied to tourism and related services.

MTIC has forged partnerships with hoteliers and entrepreneurs to develop $345 million in investment projects tied to tourism and related services. The projects include developments in southern districts including Ile-à-Vache, Jacmel and Côte des Arcadins. Developers are building 2,180 new hotel rooms around the country.

Matthew’s sweep over the country’s south will undoubtedly impact Haiti’s near-term tourism development, although the extent will become clear only after the storm departs. “We have other investors waiting as well to come in, big chains, because our big development will be in the south; we will have big hotels there,” Hilare said. 

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