February 19th, 2019, days ahead of what was supposed to be an innovative event, everything changed. I was part of the team of professionals who were to attend the first Tourism Innovation Summit hosted at Hotellerie Roi Christophe. My duties were mainly logistics and event management. However, with the series of events which affected most parts of Haiti, the TIS team decided to postpone the summit.
The postponement, though difficult, allowed more time for me to acquaint myself with Cap-Haitïen. It enabled me to take in each and every aspect that makes this city unique and beautiful; starting with Hotellerie Roi Christophe, where I stayed. I had the opportunity to speak with Steve McIntosh, the general manager of all properties under the Group Mourral organization. We spoke on the history of the hotel, current events and their impacts on both personal and business standpoints, Cap-Haitïen and the rest of the country.
Can you give me a brief history of the establishment? How many years have you been open as a hotel? Was it anything else prior to a hotel?
Steve: “Before the history of the hotel, you have to know the history of la Famille Mourral. It was a French family that came and established themselves in Cap-Haitïen. The Mourrals were two sisters and a brother who came from France and started investing in the tourism industry in Cap-Haitïen. One of the sisters bought the Roi Christophe Hotel from la Famille Décatalogne about forty-five years ago. The establishment was already a hotel when they purchased the property of eighteen rooms. Despite the lack of records of its history, we know a few facts about the hotel. One, the original building is dated from 1724; second, apparently, from statements of some historians and tourist guides, Henry Christophe had some sort of connection with the hotel, either owned it or worked here and third, it has been reported that Pauline Bonaparte stayed at the hotel before building her own residence.” Essentially, the hotel was purchased by Mr. McIntosh’s stepfather, Paul-Henri Mourral, who acquired it from his sister. Following, his stepfather’s tragic death, Mr. McIntosh’s mother, Joelle Mourral and her son, Bruno Mourral, took over the hotel. She expanded it from eighteen-rooms to thirty-eight rooms. At full occupancy, the hotel requires a staff of more than sixty personnel to be functional. In addition, the hotel, on special occasions, hires temporary staff for events to accommodate a larger crowd since they have the biggest conference room in town.
How many years have you been in charge of the hotel?
Steve: “At the request of my mother and little brother, I came back two years ago from the Dominican Republic as general manager of both Roi Christophe and Mont Joli hotels, which we recently purchased, in order for me to more involved, since our room capacity doubled.”
Image by Christelle Fanfan, February 2019
Although he has officially been in charge recently, Mr. McIntosh made it known that he has been managing Hotellerie Roi Christophe since he was seventeen years old, during some summers, whenever his stepfather and mother vacationed. He had also managed it for a year in 2005. Despite majoring in hotel management in college, his focus leaned more towards nightlife and the restaurant industry. For three years, he was the managing partner of a restaurant in Port-au-Prince called CLICK 123, which had to be shut down during the 2004 rebellion against Aristide. He had also managed the Hotel Plaza restaurant and Cercle Bellevue before this venture. Mr. McIntosh is a native of Port-au-Prince but has always made a trip to the North during vacation and holiday seasons. He is now a resident of Cap-Haitien, a city he loves and admires. I had to inquire by asking,
what do you think separates Cap-Haitien from other cities? What makes it unique?
Steve: “What makes it unique is because Cap-Haitien used to be called “The Paris of the Caribbean” because of the beauty of its French architecture and was also known as the richest colony. Haiti is well positioned between the North and the island La Tortue, and in the past Cap-Haitien was one of the major transit for most of the carriers traveling in the Caribbean. The city is thirty minutes away from three of the most attractive monuments in Haiti which are: the famous fortress La Citadelle, the Sans Souci palace, and the Milot Cathedral.”
What are your hopes for Cap-Haitien? On a personal or business level? Or both?
Steve: “On a business level, I would hope that Cap-Haitien becomes what it was meant to be- ‘The tourism capital of Haiti’ due to the fact that it is nearby La Citadelle, which should have attracted so many tourists because it was once considered one of the eight wonders of the world, but with new structures like Taj Mahal in Dubai and many others, it doesn’t hold that title anymore. On a personal level, I’m skeptical because we have been disappointed many times due to politics and mismanagement of the country. My hope is that we become stabilized and gain responsible leaders who are willing to work for the best interest of the country. For us to have a country ‘en route de développement’.”
With the series of events concerning political unrest, it was necessary to discuss the issues that arose and more, which led to asking:
What are your opinions on the events that took place? How have they impacted you and your business?
Steve: “The impact is clear because we currently have ten percent occupancy. Today, I sent a report to the association of hotels, OGDNH (Organisation de Géstion de la Déstination Nord D’Haïti) which showed that from February 15th until April 4th, we had one hundred percent cancellation with zero percent reservation which means that for the next couple of weeks, we are in the dark. Agencies like Travelocity, CheapTickets, and Expedia have stopped reservations for the next two months and their main reason is ‘due to civil unrest’. Travel warnings were issued by most foreign embassies and now Haiti has been wiped out from the tourism industry which will result in repercussions that could last years.”
What are your thoughts, or fears if any, of the world’s opinion about Haiti at the moment?
Steve: “At the moment, it’s really bad. It’s bad for the country, us (Group Mourral), bad for Cap-Haitien and our identity as Haitians. My fear, which has become our reality is that the worse has been done. The world is looking at us as a country that always has problems. We lost our opportunity again to be a tourist destination. We took away five years of work. It’s going to require five to ten years to regain that. The last time we really had tourists was under Duvalier; after Duvalier, we had ten years with eight coup-d’états (from 1986 to 1996) with no tourism. The only glimpse of some sort of stability we had since ‘86 was from 2006 until 2017 under both Préval and Martelly. We need to work harder now.”
It’s certain that many of us who reside in Haiti and the diaspora want to be involved with Haiti by creating changes that would benefit the tourism sector and population. Many of us are willing to invest in the country so that we can create jobs and provide an impact on a bigger scale. I wanted to know from a business standpoint, Mr. McIntosh’s perspective on the following:
Is there any advice you would give to anyone looking to venture into the tourism sector? Either to own lodging, businesses or attractions in Cap-Haitien or Haiti
Steve: “To be honest, it’s not a sector that needs investment right now because of the instability and insecurity. We would have to wait to see how the government, the politicians, the civil society and the population handle the ongoing crisis as well as how the next couple of years will play out politically. If someone were to ask me my opinion on investing in present time, I would advise them to wait. However, I would have said otherwise if they approached me following the earthquake in 2010; when I think of the wonderful job accomplished by Stephanie Villedrouin, the Minister of Tourism at the time, promoting Haiti and attracting people to the country; of course, if we exclude politics from the conversation. Since we (Hotellerie Roi Christophe) have been open for forty years, I can say that the number of hotel rooms in Haiti doubled under the Martelly administration with new hotels like Best Western, Marriott, Oasis, and Satama in Cap-Haitien and other franchise like Décameron and NH El Rancho which have partnered with local Haitian brands. Haiti has only five thousand rooms altogether, we could have much more in the upcoming years, if we invest in better infrastructure, job creation, education, agriculture, etc and if we have a stable country and government.”
Through my search, I was exposed to the history of Hotellerie Roi Christophe, which is embedded within the establishment and its surroundings. It is clear that Mr. McIntosh understands the past of the hotel as well as its impact on the local economy, especially when it’s time to make decisions to improve and expand the brand, Group Mourral. They recently acquired the sister hotel, le Mont Joli (pictured below). They also purchased the boutique hotel, Brise de Mer, which is currently under construction with a projected date of completion for 2023. The goal is to expand the brand while also exposing everyone to both Cap-Haitien and the Haitian culture. As a visitor, I can attest that they prioritize the comfort and safety of their guests. They are incredibly attentive and genuinely cater to their guests’ needs. I had a unique opportunity to take a tour of the hotels. One can take notice of the vintage pieces such as furniture, maps, artwork, tools, and crafts that have been well preserved from decades ago. To the attentive individual, you will observe that they invest a lot for the upkeep of both hotels, through renovations as well as their taste in interior and exterior decoration and design. Be sure to take a trip to the northern part of Haiti and book a comfortable stay with Group Mourral, where “History meets Elegance.”
Author: Christelle Fanfan.
Last modified: March 20, 2019