Responsible Vacation Feature: Tourism Means Hope for Haiti

A responsible vacation in Haiti doesn't necessarily mean volunteering. Just going to Haiti, relaxing on the beach, and spending your money would qualify as a responsible vacation. Haiti needs tourism, because Haiti needs money. The earthquake left over 1.6 million homeless, and foreign aid isn't going to cut it. $9 billion has been pledged, but only $686 million has arrived. Haiti is, by most measures, the poorest country in the Americas.

Haitian politics have been contentious for years. The United Nation named Cité Soleil, a slum in Port-au-Prince, "the most dangerous place on earth".  About half of the Haitian population is illiterate. Half of the children are unvaccinated, and less than half of the population has basic healthcare. Most people living in Haiti have a high risk of infectious diseases, and last month, more than 2,500 people were treated for cholera, most likely due to infected water from the Arbonite river.

So, Haiti doesn't sound like a honeymoon destination, it sounds like a place of poverty, due to corruption and bad luck. While neighboring Caribbean countries like Jamaica and Puerto Rico are pulling in plenty of tourism money, Haiti remains absent from Caribbean guidebooks. Pauline Frommer (of Frommer's Guidebooks) says that nobody wants to go "somewhere were there might be a civil war brewing". Or, somewhere recently destroyed by an earthquake. Too bad, though, because if there was a responsible vacation guidebook, Haiti would definitely top the list.

Haiti is beautiful and vibrant. In the 1950's and 60's, Haiti was a popular destination, boasting untamed scenery and exotic culture. Haiti still has beautiful beaches, Voodoo ritualistic sites, French-African cuisine and original (and world-renowned) music and art. Haiti has a lot to offer tourists. Responsible vacation goers, though, probably consider it too dangerous. The US Government travel site declares that there are no "safe" areas in Haiti, and that "kidnapping, death threats, murders, drug-related shootouts, armed robbers" and so forth are common. However, foreigners are rarely the victims of these crimes (in 2009, only one U.S. citizen was kidnapped, though in 2008, 27 U.S. citizens were kidnapped).

It's a shame that Haiti can't easily advertise itself as a safe responsible vacation destination. According to freelance writer Elizabeth Lazar, tourism is Haiti's best hope. Lazar writes "That's the consensus of the nation's political class, and it may well be right". Lazar acknowledges that vacationers don't want to think about suffering. However, she proposes that responsible vacation goers who choose Haiti can make a really difference. Lazar even throws out a potential slogan: "Rebuilding Haiti, one garnished beach cocktail at a time."

Photo credit: Michelle Walz Eriksson