Mega-ship, mountain fort could boost Haiti tourism

Mon Oct 5, 2009 10:49pm EDT
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By Joseph Guyler Delva

LABADEE, Haiti (Reuters) - An ultramodern ocean liner and a 19th-century mountaintop fortress built by a slave rebellion leader figure prominently in Haiti's plans to revive tourism in the poorest nation in the Americas.

A key element of the hoped-for renaissance may be close to fruition. Haitian Tourism Minister Patrick Delatour said the government recently signed a deal with Venezuela for an international airport, Haiti's second, in Cap-Haitien, its second-largest city.

Starting in December, Royal Caribbean Cruises will send its new Oasis of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world, to a weekly stopover at the northern beach resort of Labadee, another important step forward for a tourism economy that crumbled under years of political turmoil.

The next move could be to build a road between Labadee and Haiti's World Heritage Site, a park containing the massive Citadelle Laferriere fortress and the Sans Souci palace built by Henri Christophe, a leader of the slave revolt that freed Haiti from French rule in 1804.

"In 2011 we will be able to say that Haiti is back on the world tourism map," Delatour told reporters last week.

Boosted by what is being seen as Haiti's most stable moment in a generation, President Rene Preval's government has set in motion a bold plan to lure tourists to northern Haiti, far from the dilapidated capital Port-au-Prince and its teeming slums.

The mystique of its voodoo culture, a thriving art scene and Caribbean beaches made Haiti a popular destination years ago. Club Med once operated a beach resort here.

But successive years of political violence took its toll. A popular uprising that ousted the Duvalier family dictatorship and its dreaded Tontons Macoute gangster militia in 1986 was followed by the army's overthrow of priest-turned-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the early 1990s.   Continued...

<p>U.N. special envoy to Haiti and former U.S. President Bill Clinton (C) speaks with a local businessman as he visits the ruins of Sans Souci palace near the northern city of Cap Haitian during his two day trip to promote tourism and industry in Haiti in this October 2, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/U.N./Logan Abbasi/Handout</p>