They may share the rugged island of Hispaniola, but earthquake-ravaged Haiti and its bustling, prosperous neighbour have little else in common. It’s no wonder the Dominican Republic is considered the tourism powerhouse of the Caribbean!
This year, while the DR hosts more than 4 million tourists from around the world, Haiti will continue the grim task of burying its dead, clearing the rubble, and trying to rebuild. It’s an astonishing paradox, considering that in the 1950s and ’60s Haiti was considered a Caribbean “must see” by tourists looking for the exotic tropics. And its neighbour across the mountains? Still a relative tourism backwater. It was only in the 1970s that the DR government turned its focus to developing the tourism industry, and the results since then have been the envy of tourism ministries throughout the Caribbean basin.
Now, Haiti is not even listed as a tourist destination by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) (which tracks tourist arrivals throughout its vast region), although there do remain a few isolated spots on the northern shore of Haiti that are visited by cruise ships and a few hardy snowbirds from Quebec. The travel insurers we spoke to couldn’t hazard a guess as to how many snowbirds—or how few—that may be. Let’s hope they have travel insurance, because getting airlifted back home as quickly as possible would appear to be the only way to deal with a medical emergency at this critical time. Haiti has enough problems of its own.
Some of the world’s largest cruise ships, including the biggest of all—Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas—continue to drop anchor at the island of Labadee on the north shore—to let passengers enjoy the sun, sand, barbeques, and trinket shopping that is an expected part of cruising through “paradise.” But many cruise passengers say they are having a hard time enjoying hamburgers and beer on Royal Caribbean’s private island while just miles away Haitians struggle to stay alive.
Though the January earthquake devastated the western third of Hispaniola, it caused only a few tremors in the Dominican Republic, which subsequently became a massive emergency control centre for thousands of international relief workers trying to move supplies and their own services into Haiti. Reports tell us that the relief effort has put an additional burden on DR’s hospitals, hotels, and civil services. But to date, the government and the tourist industry have seen no reason to curtail any tourist-related activities and, in fact, are encouraging visitors to go ahead with their plans.
The DR Ministry of Tourism noted: All of the DR’s eight international airports are open and receiving flights. All of the DR’s cruise terminals and seaports are open and receiving ships. All of the DR’s beaches, hotels, resorts, and tourism businesses are conducting normal business operations. At this time, no flights or group tours to the DR have been cancelled.
We’ll have to wait and see how Haiti’s crisis ultimately impacts its neighbour’s tourism, economy, infrastructure, and generosity. It’s unlikely, however, that the DR will be seriously challenged as the Caribbean’s most popular tourism attraction. In 2008, according to CTO data, the DR hosted 3.98 million foreign visitors, compared to 2.3 million who travelled to Cuba, and 2.2 million to Mexico’s Caribbean outlet of Cancun.
Now if only Haiti can be reconstructed to enjoy some of that prosperity and stability.