Vanessa Leon- February 22, 2013 for The Haitian Times
…economic development is about improving the social and economic well-being of a community, not just about fostering a country’s economic growth.
To promote tourism, Haiti’s present efforts have included the construction of airports in Les Cayes, Île-à-Vache and in Cap-Haïtien; building hotels in Port-au-Prince and Pétion-Ville; and opening a hospitality school, amidst other initiatives. However, for the countless Haitians who themselves do not yet have the privilege of leaving Haiti to be tourists elsewhere, physical and social infrastructure investments such as new roads, school buildings, public health services and workforce development (beyond tourism training institutes) can go a lot further in bolstering their daily realities. Attention to these concerns is just as important, if not more so, as marketing Haiti’s food, culture and historic sites.
That is why it’s not enough for Haiti’s latest tourism campaign to focus almost exclusively on increasing revenue for the national economy without adequate consideration for the aforementioned approaches to economic development. Economic development succeeds when there is sustained efforts to monitor how well people’s daily are faring as a result of the monetary inflow from an industry like tourism. For instance, while Haiti receives $10 per passenger for the Royal Caribbean’s private island resort in Labadee, which rakes in $6 million a year for the Haitian government’s coffers, one cannot help but wonder how many more millions the Royal Caribbean makes in profits. All the while, communities trapped outside the resort’s gates certainly cannot attest to subsequent increases in their standards of living from this arrangement.
To better advocate for tourism as an economic development measure, Haiti has to develop a clear and simultaneous strategy for how tourists’ dollars will be spent towards improving the Haitian populace. Imagine if something akin to a neighborhood tourism council existed to increase citizen participation and to help determine which social or infrastructure project benefited from tourism revenue. This could better integrate local communities into the tourism economy rather than hopelessly feeling like tourism is happening to them. Regardless, the tourism sector cannot thrive on abysmal roads, traffic congestion and a subpar waste management system.
Neither can the Haitian people.
Developing a plan that funnels tourism earnings towards these and other national priorities would better ensure that the money generated from tourism actually remains on the island rather than returning to foreign conglomerates on the first flight (or ship) out. An earnest dedication to improving human capital, local economies and places throughout the country — along with strengthening Haiti’s tourism allure worldwide — will say a lot about how committed the Haitian state is to rebranding the nation, and rebranding itself.
Vanessa Leon is founder and principal planner of Pinchina Consulting, based in the DC metro area. She holds a Master of Urban Planning specializing in economic development and housing policy. Follow her on Twitter; she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this Op-Ed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Haitian Times.