Haiti to change image with tourism masterplan

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PRESIDENT Michel Martelly has unveiled a multi-million pound plan to transform Haiti’s sleepy, picture postcard image of sandy beaches and wooden fishing boats with a tourism development bristling with hotel rooms, restaurants and more.

He has unveiled plans for thousands of hotel rooms, cruise liner berths and infrastructure for the tranquil Cotes-de-Fer, a mostly uninhabited area featuring a smattering of shacks lit by candles whose few residents fish or work the sunbaked soil to eke a living.

Mr Martelly hopes foreign visitors can help spur an economic revival in the nation of ten million, where most adults lack steady employment and survive on less than $2 (£1.20) a day.

So far there are only tentative signs of the hoped-for boom in Cotes-de-Fer. Dirt access roads have been widened with the help of Taiwan and Venezuela and residents hope they will soon be paved.

The government is refurbishing the fishing village and training tourist police as it tries to line up investors for a country enjoying relative tranquility after years of turmoil.

Prime minister Laurent Lamothe, on a visit to the area, said: “We know it’s a huge task and it won’t be easy, but this is one chance that Haiti cannot miss. We’ve been at the bottom of the ladder for too long.”

A masterplan promises tax-free investments for 15 years in a development that could eventually cover about 5,680 acres (2,299 hectares), with up to 20,000 hotel rooms and tower blocks being built.

The first phase would cost nearly $48 million (£30m) with 1,266 rooms in four hotels and 1,133 tourist residences, an 18-hole golf course, and a beach club by 2017. A small airport would be built nearby.

Officials hope it will become Haiti’s version of Punta Cana, a major resort town carved out of a fishing village in neighbouring Dominican Republic in the 1970s. Grupo PuntaCana, which operates the Dominican resort, has assisted Haiti with developing its plans.

The $266m (£172m) project would be the biggest ever in Haiti, which is recovering from a devastating 2010 earthquake that shattered the crowded capital, Port-au-Prince, and surrounding areas.

The broader tourism push includes development of the southern island of Île-à-Vache. Plans there call for a resort with roughly 2,500 rooms and its own international airport. Dredging to accommodate supply ships is nearing completion, and the site for a future airport is being graded.

Haiti also has signed a memorandum of understanding with Carnival Corp. to develop a $70m cruise port on Île de la Tortue, an island off the north coast long known as a haunt of smugglers.

For now, most tourists are cruise-ship passengers who never leave Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s fenced-in beach attraction in northern Haiti.

In Côtes-de-Fer, the possibility of a tourism boom is being welcomed.

“We’re all hopeful about what the future will bring,” 15-year-old Doyana Sterne, who wants to be a civil engineer.

Some, though, have doubts about the viability of the projects. Haitian economist Kesner Pharel said potential investors may be scared off by a lack of good roads and other infrastructure as well as the possibility that political instability will return.