Ecotourism: A Way Forward in Haiti?
Can ecotourism provide a path to sustainable development in Haiti? Here are three thought leaders who say a qualified yes. Their observations carry the rhythm and beauty of poetry. Take a look.
In spite of environmental degradation, Paul Paryski states, the country the size of the U.S. state of Maryland “remains a spectacularly beautiful country of towering mountains—the highest in the Caribbean. Atop them are ancient cloud forests, unexplored limestone cave systems, and meadows filled with wildflowers. Below are fantastic coral reefs and shining beaches.”
Eco-attractions And Fascinating Culture
According to Paul Paryski, the environmental advocate who once worked in Haiti developing its natural resources, add to these “eco-attractions” the charming and colorful art and music and a unique and fascinating culture and history and you have a core resource for nature-based tourism in Haiti.
In the highest of Haiti's mountains, two national parks, Macaya and Lavisite, have been established to conserve the country's natural heritage and unique mountain ecosystems.
Paryski goes on: “Haiti’s exquisite beaches are often surrounded by peaks and pristine coral reef systems. There are pocket deserts filled with unusual cacti; in fact, some scientists claim that many species of cacti originated in Hispaniola.”
Gérard Alphonse Férère joins the chorus: “Our potential [in Haiti] is practically unlimited. More than any other country in the area, and because of our unique assets—historical sites, artistic achievements, African-rooted religion and folklore, excellent climate, cool mountains, miles and miles of beautiful unspoiled beaches—we could market a variety of tourism with a real vive la différence flavor.”
Leslie Desmangles concurs, and offers a few prerequisites for ecotourism and development:
- First and foremost, consent, collaboration, and direction of Haitians.
- Infrastructure—accommodations, food, security, parking areas, medical clinics, and waste management.
- People—guides, service workers, musicians, and artists; source of ideas for dealing with seasonal constraints such as hurricanes.
- Training—including in school curricula—in appreciation of biodiversity, value of tourism, how tos of hospitality and value of protecting/husbanding natural resources.
- Political will—capacity for husbanding resources, preventing poaching and further clearcutting, willingness to bear increased cost to the protected areas to account for such issues as congestion, disturbance of wildlife, tourist consumption of protected resources for “souvenirs.”
- Government cooperation—policies that protect unique ecosystems of Haiti.
Desmangles says the key audience for ecotourism will be Haitians of the Diaspora. The tour package could even include an opportunity to volunteer at a clinic or school “back home.”
Leslie G. Desmangles, Charles A. Dana Research Professor of Religion and International Studies, author interview May 9, 2011.
Gérard Alphonse Férère, “Haiti and Its Diaspora: New Historical, Cultural and Economic Frontiers,” 1999 report to the Haitian Ambassador in the United States.
Paul Paryski, “Can Haiti Dream of Ecotourism?” 1996.