Why Push Tourism in Haiti Despite the Constant Political Instabilities

September 30, 2019

Tourism is an effective lever that can stimulate economic growth and reduce the unemployment rate. It stands out as a high-potential income sector, a true resource of wealth and one of the only viable opportunities for economic diversification, particularly for developing countries. At the macroeconomic level, the share of tourism in the world’s GDP is around 10% and its direct contribution to the world’s GDP is still 3.1% (World Tourism Organization).

Because of its cross-disciplinary nature, tourism creates both multiplier effects and substantial training effects on other economic sectors in that it promotes the emergence of other industries by supporting the development of local industries, transforming infrastructures, and boosting economic and social benefits, which in turn can broaden the base of economic growth through the stimulation of related domestic production.

Despite all these potentialities, it is a very fragile sector of economic activity, as tourism receipts are negatively affected by any problem related to insecurity, insalubrity or socio-political unrest.

In relation to this, one may wonder why support this sector in a country like Haiti where the political instabilities are constant?

This is the thorny question we will try to answer through this article.

Haiti was one of the first tourist destinations of the Caribbean in the 50s, including the influx of winter cruise ships. This earned us the nickname “The Pearl of the West Indies.”

In 1951, over 10,700 tourists visited Haiti. Four years later, this number more than doubled to 24,831. During the sixties and seventies, this country was one of the most popular destinations in the West Indies.

Later, in the years 1972, the country received a total of 67,625 tourists. In 8 years, from 1951 to 1959, the number of tourist stays increased yet again by eight-fold according to Paul Moral. The country offered its visitors unique products of all kinds, based upon elements that are intrinsic to its culture, environment, and people. According to Sarrasin & Renaud (2014) in the years just prior to 1979, Haiti exceeded 300,000 tourists annually.  Further, 2012 was a year during which several initiatives were taken in favor of the promotion of this sector, in particular at the level of the development of certain select sites and choice of tourism development areas.

Despite these gains, this sector has experienced periods of sporadic jolts, recessions, crises and political instabilities that are a genuine threat to its sustainability and advancement, elements that constitute the objective analysis framework for foreign investors. Instability does not inspire confidence. Further, domestic policies should not be a hindrance to the development of this sector.

Political and economic stability are the essential raw materials for the growth of tourism. This is because political stability usually associated with the legitimacy of the power of governments (Lemco, 1991; Weber, 1995). Visitor uncertainty and safety concerns are often marked by foci of political and economic instability.

Haitian tourism badly needs stability that would benefit from a positive perception from those media who are the main information vectors. Thus, the image of a destination – which results from representations and subjective interpretations – leads to creating impressions of stability or instability. These impressions can be very fragile, transitory, and easily interchangeable.

Thailand offers an interesting example. This South-East Asian country was considered a landmark tourist destination in this region for many years. However, it has been the subject of frequent changes in governments, particularly through the intervention of the military. To the extent that these changes were apparently smooth and non-violent, the regime’s perception of stability was maintained in the minds of potential visitors.  Therefore, its tourism industry continued to grow (Hall and O’Sullivan, 1996). This example demonstrates that representations of political stability vs. instability are fundamental features of tourism promotion, whose importance often exceeds that of natural and cultural attractions.

Therefore, destinations and tourism activities are vulnerable to negative media perceptions of stability or lack thereof.  They are, by default, reactive to any disruption of their systems and operating environments.

The ability of any territory to attract tourists is therefore obviously impacted by political instability and the negative media that may ensue. For this reason, the initiatives of several development agencies such as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which contributed to the implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), highlighted the importance of increasing tourism progress as a beneficial factor for developing countries. Availability of inexpensive labor, low-cost natural and cultural services can often be viewed as advantages for developing countries’ tourism trade when stability is also perceived.

Considering its past economic weight and the revenues it can generate, Haitian tourism represents an opportunity for improvement of local communities and their standard of living.  Mass tourism at popular destinations might be able to increase and sustainably assist in the monetary welfare of the local communities adjacent to the destination, as well as providing earning potential for local workers engaged in the tourist trade.

All in all, despite certain challenges related to political instability and institutional weakness, Haiti continues to represent fertile soil for increased tourism potential. The country remains a highly sought after destination, particularly in the Caribbean region. However, in the current context, it is important to improve the image of the country in order to reposition it on the tourist map of the world. In fact, the quest for development in Haiti, through tourism, can only count on urgent public interventions in partnership with other stakeholders and integrated participation of the population in the sector to redefine the priorities of Haiti in tourism as sustainable.

Ultimately, strategies to curb political instability and promote tourism in Haiti will succeed, among other things, by establishing and implementing effective public policies to improve the infrastructure and living conditions of the Haitian people in general.  What is good for the people will, by default, be good for tourism.

Writer: Obed Blacker DORVILUS

Last modified: September 30, 2019

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