Anne Majumdar

With Haiti in desperate need of funding to help it recover from the destruction of Hurricane Matthew three weeks ago, can tourism play a role in its recovery?

The category 4 storm, the most powerful Caribbean storm in nearly a decade, swept through the Caribbean island three weeks ago, with many of the hardest hit areas facing major problems. Officials fear the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera, particularly if additional rain falls.

UNICEF has already said it would need an additional $22.5 million to meet the increasing needs of children in the country, including in the hurricane-hit areas.

“Children in Haiti have for years been vulnerable to poverty, severe weather patterns, violence, malnutrition and poor water infrastructure,” said Marc Vincent, UNICEF Representative in Haiti.

“Hurricane Matthew made a precarious situation even worse and we need the international community to come together to help us address children’s increasing needs.”

Last week, Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop pledged humanitarian assistance to Haiti to aid its recovery – $1.5 million to UNICEF and a further $1 million to the International Organization for Migration.

“Australia will contribute $2.5 million to the international effort to assist Haitians in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew,” she confirmed.

“When at least 546 Haitians were killed, thousands of homes destroyed, there was a surge in cholera cases, leaving more than 1.4 million Haitians in need of humanitarian assistance.”

But foreign hand-outs like these are just one way of supporting the country, with many sceptical about the long-term benefits of this type of aid following the devastating quake of 2010 which killed 200,000 people. Six years on, the country remains aid-dependent with the billions in foreign cash received post-quake having made little impact. Tens of thousands of quake victims still live in temporary shelter.

The impact of the earthquake can still be seen

The impact of the earthquake can still be seen

 

How better to support this long-suffering but once-proud nation then?

Tourism is one such way. And by tourism, we’re not talking about volunteering to lend a hand on the ground, according to Jean-Cyril Pressoir of Tour Haiti. Big philanthropic groups, usually from the US, are a common sight in the country.

“I see the fact that a lot of people that come here to help have their hearts in the right place, but in doing this they have to realise that they strip us of our dignity and that’s not what we want,” he said.

“We want tourism that helps us rebuild our dignity and helps us claim it back.”

Bringing foreign currency into the country by consuming local services and products offered by small local businesses creates sustainable jobs, Pressoir explained.

The process of supporting the country continues even once tourists have left, he continued.

“You’re changing how all the people that are talking to you are going to view Haiti,” he said, explaining that visitors are usually surprised by how safe and welcoming the island is, despite constant negative coverage in the media.

But tourism also has the power to make the island even safer and more welcoming.

Pressoir likened tourism to welcoming guests into your home, prompting you to keep it clean and tidy, and to be hospitable.

“That’s what we want to do for our guests,” he said.

“So if you want to come to Haiti and help us? Then come to Haiti and have fun, learn, experience something that’s going to change you.”

Carnival masks in Jacmel

Carnival masks in Jacmel

Pressoir’s company Tour Haiti operates itineraries for G Adventures, a company which is underlined its commitment to the destination following recent events.

“G Adventures was one of the first tour companies to go back to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 and we aim to continue to support the country and its people by continuing to run trips and support the local economy,” Managing Director Australia and New Zealand Adrian Piotto said.

 “All of our tours in Haiti, which are scheduled to begin in November, are still scheduled to depart and we are looking into alternative itineraries to replace Port Salut in the South Western tip of the country which was badly affected by Hurricane Matthew.”

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