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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.
A U.S.-led military intervention restored Aristide in 1994. More than 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers now patrol the streets.
Grinding poverty also discourages tourism. Some 70 percent of Haiti's 9 million people live on less than $2 a day and malnutrition is rampant.
FROM BEACH TO FORTRESS
Delatour said Haiti was now finalizing a $30 million loan from Venezuela to build the terminal and tarmac of a new airport in Cap-Haitien. The road from Labadee to the Citadelle and the town of Milot, home of Sans Souci, could be next.
The minister envisioned thousands of wealthy tourists from cruise ships making the trek from Labadee, where Royal Caribbean is spending $55 million to build a cruise ship pier and attractions, to one of the largest forts in the Caribbean.
Oasis of the Seas, which begins visits in December, can disgorge 6,000 onto Haitian shores each trip, officials said.
"One day we hope that our guests will have the opportunity to go to the Citadelle and Milot, when all the conditions are right for that," RCL chairman Richard Fain said as he toured Labadee with former U.S. President Bill Clinton last week. Continued...
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