Haiti looks to tourism as way forward

Still struggling to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake, Haiti's prime minister declared it 'open for business.' Rather than depending on international aid, Haiti hopes to attract tourism and investments.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
Clothing for sale hangs from ropes at a market in the Dominican Republic where Haitians sell their goods. Haiti is trying to capitalize on tourism as part of its recovery from the 2010 earthquake.

Haiti's prime minister says his country is hoping to attract high-end tourists and multinational investors — instead of constant aid handouts — so it can get on its feet after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said Saturday he recognizes that's an ambitious dream for a country where 52 percent of the people live below the poverty line and where infrastructure is desperately lacking.

Still, he pushed that concept — and a bid to build up Haiti's tourism industry — in meetings with CEOs this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

"Haiti is open for business," Lamothe said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Haiti still has huge humanitarian needs and little more than half of the $5.3 billion in aid promised after the earthquake has been disbursed.

Lamothe, however, said "we are not going to depend on handouts indefinitely."

Yet humanitarian groups are unlikely to go away, for they have long provided basic services to Haitians because the government can barely do so.

Lamothe argued that his visit to Davos — a pricey Alpine resort reserved for business and political leaders this week — was a worthwhile venture that would bear fruit for his Caribbean country, such as an investment pledge from Heineken and new projects with Coca-Cola.

He said he wants people to think of Haiti not just as a place to set up a charity but as a place to set up a business, and argued that corporations "can do equal or better than any large country for small Haiti."

The prime minister called building up the tourism industry "a very high priority," noting that a five-star hotel was already under construction and that new tourist police would provide security for visitors in a country with a turbulent past.

Yet efforts to bring in foreign investors and tourists could prove a tough sell. Haiti is expected to hold legislative elections this year, and the run-up could be fraught with political agitation and protests.

The capital, Port-au-Prince, is also crowded, dirty and clogged with traffic.

Haiti is still clearing the last rubble from the 2010 quake, which killed about 316,000 people. Another 350,000 Haitians are still living in impromptu camps. The reconstruction effort has been slow due to political paralysis and the level of devastation.

Trenton Daniel in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report.

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