PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti's meager hotel offerings got a major boost on Tuesday with the inauguration of a brand new Marriott in the heart of the capital, the latest in a series of modern additions to the impoverished Caribbean island's hospitality sector.
The 175-room hotel was officially opened to great fanfare, with former U.S. President Bill Clinton attending as well as Haitian President Michel Martelly.
The $45 million project is a collaboration - facilitated by the Clinton Foundation - between Marriott International Inc, and Digicel, a global telecom company which dominates the local cellphone market.
While Haiti is in a deep political crisis over long-delayed elections, Denis O’Brien, Digicel's Irish chairman and founder, expressed confidence that the hotel will fill its beds.
"If you look in Europe today, there’s instability in Greece," he said. "There has been some riots here over the last weeks but that’s not going to put people off from coming to Haiti because they know that’s just demonstrations against the government."
Eager to change the country's image, O’Brien wants to see more foreign investment in Haiti. "If you’re an investor, you do not look at some of the obstacles like electricity or riots, you look at the opportunities here ... agriculture, tourism and light manufacturing."
Craig Smith, Marriott's president for Latin America and the Caribbean, acknowledged that construction had not always been easy. "What was complicated was to bring the right materials. In developing countries, the first 90 percent of the construction is done quickly, the last 10 percent takes almost as much time," he said.
Many of the 200 young staff hired are Haitians who come from disadvantaged backgrounds or are bilingual Haitian-Americans.
Addressing the new staff, Clinton said: "You have the chance to show the real Haiti to everyone coming to this hotel. If everyone knew this country as Denis O’Brien and I know it ... people would be flooding here every day."
According to the Ministry of Tourism about half of the capital's roughly 1,600 hotel rooms were lost in a Jan. 2010 earthquake that flattened parts of the capital, killing tens of thousands of people.
Over the past three years the expansion of existing hotels and the construction of new ones built to international standards has doubled capacity in the capital.
Prices at the Marriott will start at $149 a night, for an introductory period before rising to $179 a night.
(Corrects O'Brien's title in paragraph 4, from chief executive to chairman and founder)
Editing by David Adams; Editing by Christian Plumb