Adding value to Heritage & Nature in Haiti

In 1492, famed explorer Christopher Columbus described Haiti as “a paradise on earth.”

Since Christopher Columbus, geopolitics and natural disasters have severely affected Haiti and its natural environment leaving Haiti as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Even before the devastating earthquake in January 2010, 80% of the population was living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty.  Official estimates say that more than 250,000 people were killed by the earthquake in January and millions more affected.

Many in Haiti believe that after the immediate needs of the people have been met, it is the time to finally address some of the fundamental problems that have plagued Haiti for decades and rebuild Haiti not as it was, but as it should be.  What it deserves to be.

More now then ever, Haiti is going to need environmental protection and sustainable jobs. It’s hard to think about tourism at a time like this, but without a doubt, tourism will be vital to Haiti’s future development and now is the time to start putting in place the building blocks for Haiti’s long term tourism development. One development specialist who has been living in Haiti for several years and survived the January earthquake put it this way; “You can’t dump the longer term view when this happens, you have to keep going.” As Haiti emerges from the immediate aftermaths of the earthquake, tourism programs will play an important role in long-term recovery. Recently, Haiti’s Tourism Minister, Mr. Patrick Delatour said up to US$30 billion is needed to reconstruct the earthquake-stricken Caribbean nation. Tourism has been selected as one of the main pillars on which Haitian economy will be rebuilt.

Haiti is located at the centre of a region known for outstandingly beautiful landscapes and relaxing tropical holidays. Few places in the world offer as much to eco-tourists as the Caribbean and Central America.  From the far-flung Corn Islands off the East coast of Nicaragua, to the pristine rainforests of Guyana and Suriname, to the flocks of spectacular scarlet Ibis in Trinidad’s Caroni Swamp to the Turks and Caicos Island’s third largest coral reef system in the world. Belize offers the second largest barrier reef in the world, after the famed Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Neighboring Dominican Republic received US$4.2 billion in tourism revenues in 2008, its second largest source of revenue. This project will give Haiti the tools needed to benefit from a bigger share of this important ecotourism market.

The 18th session of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) General Assembly, which concluded on October 8th 2009, highlighted “The enormous importance of [tourism] for job creation, trade and development.” The UNWTO also said that tourism, which is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, “provides more than 75 million direct jobs worldwide, offers fast entry into the workforce, particularly for youth and women in urban and rural communities, accounts for 30% of the world’s exports of services (1 trillion US$ a year) and up to 45% of the total export of services in developing countries.”

Sustainable community-based heritage and nature tourism means supporting businesses developed and operated by Haitians.  Partnering with local stakeholders and skills transfer are critical to the long-term success of any project in Haiti.  The Hummingfish foundation wants to support and mentor Haitian run and operated CBETs and will ensure that project development is done with this aim in mind.

According to researchers from Yunnan University:

“Marketing is the fatal weak point to most failed CBET projects. Far too many inexperienced rural communities have attempted to operate independently of the tourism industry and have consequently failed. The major reason for failure was their inability to access the extensive promotion and marketing systems upon which tourism depends.”

The Hummingfish Foundation’s goal is to help CBET programs in Haiti succeed in reaching their potential customers through the use of compelling marketing tools and channels. To link a CBET destination with a potential tourist, it is vital to have an arsenal of powerful photographic images and present them in a way that can convey the power and beauty of Haiti’s community-based heritage and nature tourism assets.

This project will create many valuable skills as well as a central photographic archive with thousands of high-quality images, which can be used to promote Haiti through a variety of marketing tools.  The project will create a legacy of photographic and design excellence, which will be synonymous with tourism in Haiti.

One of the greatest challenges in the promotion of any CBET destination lies in improving and amplifying its image to the world.  In Haiti’s case, a change in perception from a country ravaged by natural disasters, political and civil unrest to one of a country with beautiful natural wonders, unique culture and a rich heritage will be vital in selling Haiti as a tourist destination.  This does not mean creating a false image of Haiti and creating false expectations for any potential tourist, but rather putting what we know to be Haiti’s jewels to the forefront of the public discourse.

So on the one hand, there is a significant number of potential destinations in Haiti for community-based heritage and nature tourism.  On the other hand, there is a multi-billion dollar a year tourism industry.

How to connect the two? How to bridge the gap between CBET assets and tourists?

The short answer is compelling imagery, well presented. This is the mission of The Hummingfish Foundation, to connect the dots between community-based heritage and nature tourism assets and heritage/nature loving tourists.

Of all the industries that a nation can possess, tourism is the one industry that relies on compelling imagery well presented to sell.  You can sell fisheries, oil or timber without powerful photographs, but not tourism.

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