Haiti's Hotels Thrive Amid Disaster of Earthquake's Long Aftermath The vista from the private terrace of the John Barrymore Suite at the Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince is a vision of verdant hills and a brilliant blue bay, a dramatic postcard that reveals not a hint of the mountains of rubble and trash left over from Haiti's catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake, nor the escalating cholera epidemic, nor the slums just beyond the hotel's gate.

The suite named for the American actor boasts an open-air, king-size bed draped in mosquito netting, two bedrooms, artisan-painted armoires, high ceilings and lace curtains -- lavish quarters that are the jewel of Haiti's most famous hotel, which served as the setting of Graham Greene's 1965 novel The Comedians.

Up until three weeks ago, foreign visitors were advised against staying there, says the hotel's manager, Richard Morse.

Despite the advisory, the historic hotel, which began its life as a private home and served later as a U.S. Marine hospital during the American occupation, has been fully booked since Jan. 12, when a devastating tremor leveled much of the capital, claiming an estimated 230,000 lives and causing as much as $14 billion in damage. The disaster drew huge numbers of aid workers, journalists, medical personnel and volunteers, all looking for a soft bed, potable water and reliable WiFi.

Some of Port-au-Prince's largest hotels, including the upscale Hotel Montana, were leveled by the earthquake, which shrunk the market and jacked up occupancy rates. "Many hotels crumbled in the quake so those that remained standing had to serve a lot of people," Morse says during an interview on the Oloffson's wraparound porch.

A Year Later, Haitians Still Live Under Tarps

That greater demand is boosting an industry that has been battered by years of political turbulence and natural disaster. It has also inspired dreams of catered excursions outside the city for foreign workers and tourists interested in a glimpse of Haiti's mellower countryside and Caribbean beaches.

Right now, the tourism offerings for foreigners visiting Haiti are fairly limited. Cruise ships from Royal Caribbean International still deliver tourists to Labadee, a private resort port 95 miles north of the quake's epicenter, for a day of sunbathing, jetskiing and rum cocktails. The Maryland-based Choice Hotels International plans to open two hotels in Jacmel, an artists' haven 25 miles south of Port-au-Prince known for its white sand beaches.

In the capital, residents' feelings are mixed about the big-spending foreigners. Nearly a year after the earthquake, 1.3 million people still live in makeshift camps. "The people from the NGOs drive around in their fancy cars and go to Jacmel, while a year later, we are still living under tarps," says Elie Elifort, 43, a community leader of a 4,000-family camp known as Canaan 3.

Opportunities Lost to the Quake

Thirty minutes and a world away, the Hotel Karibe, with its soaring brick-and-marble lobby, intricate iron inlays and swanky bar, is widely considered Port-au-Prince's most upscale hotel. Heavily damaged in the earthquake, it reopened its doors in October. On a recent weekend, foreign workers sunbathed around a swimming pool shaded by eucalyptus trees.

"It's luxurious by international standards, not just by Haitian standards," says a U.S. embassy employee, lounging poolside with his girlfriend, a World Bank staffer visiting from Washington, D.C.

Former President Bill Clinton, the U.N.'s special envoy to Haiti, chose the hotel to host a conference in October 2009 for 300 private investors to encourage a trade and investment mission. It was a high point not only for the Karibe but also for Haiti's tourism industry, said the hotel's owner, Richard Bouteau. "There was a lot of fresh air, a lot of hope, a lot of doors opened, but of course the earthquake shut it all down," he says.

After the earthquake, Bouteau spent $1.3 million for a firm to draw plans to retrofit the hotel to California building codes, replacing the brick and stone structure with reinforced concrete.

Envisioning the Day When Sun and Culture Lure Visitors

If Port-au-Prince's hotels are doing well today, it's because of the city's massive needs, rather than its fine food or tropical weather, but hoteliers hope that will one day change. "There are not too many people on vacation right now, but hopefully, vacationers will start to come and replace the disaster tourists, because that will really determine the future of Haiti," Bouteau says.

The Oloffson's Morse, a musician and the first-cousin of Michel Martelly, a popular kampa singer and a leading presidential candidate in Haiti's Nov. 28 elections, gets a bit squeamish when asked whether Haiti's woes have been good for business.

He admits though, that, in the weeks following the January earthquake, hotel rooms were so hard to come by that he charged journalists and aid workers $100 a night to camp on his property's sprawling front lawn.

Like Buteau, Morse says the Oloffson hasn't been entertaining many tourists lately. But he, too, envisions a time when visitors come not in response to a disaster, but to take part in Haiti's rich culture, including the exuberant Carnival, the three-day celebration before Lent, and its calendar full of festive patron saint days.

"I don't think the cruise ship should be the focus. I don't think our tourism plan should be taking people who go to the Dominican Republic and come to Haiti for a day and then go back to the DR. The focus should be: What is Haiti about culturally? It's the music, it's the food and it's these religious festivities," Morse says. "Right now I'm just talking about it, but I'm trying to get a president in power so that we can do more than talk."

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We can argue about how Haiti got this way forever. That is not the point. Please note that the cholera outbreak has been traced to the Nepalese security forces who are stationed there, and not the Haitian people. For whatever reason there are 8 million people living in conditions much more like Africa than Latin America. We have a choice here. We can help them or we can ignore them. If we ignore them our good friend Mr. Chavez will no doubt find them to be good cannon fodder when he picks up where Fidel left off. And it will not be in Angola or Somalia. It will be in Laredo and Miami. Haiti is the place to do regime change and not the other side of the world. And now is the time to do it. It will save millions of lives and billions of dollars. But because most U.S. citizens cannot see any farther than their current binge, they will leave this problem to their grand children who will be fighting a terrorist menace not in Afghanistan or Iraq or Iran, but on our whole southern border. It is in our self interest to bring these people up to at least average Latin America living conditions. If not, they will over run the Dominican Republic (already in debt to Mr. Chavez for $2 billion for oil) and we will have a 16 million person population base living in utter poverty for cannon fodder, without ever having to use a single Venezuelan citizen in combat. Wake up U.S.A. and stop talking trash. It is your future that is at stake.

December 11 2010 at 11:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Pack up the Kids Honey! We"re going to get us some good"ole Haitian Cholera. That's what I'm takin Bout!

December 09 2010 at 12:42 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I was going to plant a garden,but I had no land .There are no garden or seed stores ,so I could not find any seeds to plant anyway.I decided to look for work,but there are no factory's, contruction projects,or business's of any kind.No one has money to buy anything .So I decided to go to college but there are no colleges.So now I build small boat,go america.I work cheap.I help myself-------------------to your job.I love america.LOL LOL.Just kidding,sort of.

December 08 2010 at 7:32 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Best hotel? Must be two cardboard boxes tied together. When is this country going to get on its feet and do something for themselves. Where's the CBC? When they go down to kiss Castro's arse, can't they stop by Haiti and leave some of their in-flight food for the poor folks? What a mess.

December 08 2010 at 4:58 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

quit sitting on you lazy a--ses and beg all the time get to work yourselfs and rebuild like many other countrys have done in the past start your own education and shool programs whats the % of your people cant read or write and have never had a job or know what to do exept siting around doing nothing take a showel or pick and start cleaning up the mess you have tausends of them doing what nothing

December 08 2010 at 3:37 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

Who wanted to visit Haiti before the earthquake? It has nothing to recommend it. It was a backward, superstitious, corrupt, violent country before the earthquake, hurricane & cholera. It is not a beautiful tropical paradise but a cesspool. It has been deforested by it's people so that only 2% of the original forest survives. Because of deforestation the once rich soil is too poor to grow crops. Any US dollars sent or spent there is like throwing money in the ocean expecting a sunken ship to rise. Haitians ruined their half of the island long ago. Dominicans have monitored their border for decades to keep the Haitian garbage out of their country. The Dominican Republic which shares the island with Haiti is a prosperous, beautiful, stable country and worth a visit.

December 08 2010 at 2:49 PM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply

The men there need to do something more constructive than impregnating all the women. They need to dig holes for out-house sanitation, (just like we had in our country here 100 yrs. ago), dig wells for hand pumps for clean water, (like we had here 100 yrs. ago), plant crops for food, grow fruit trees, and any other agricultural crops that they can grow year round, because America has to fight inclement climate conditions, year round, but we have to survive, and lastly, clean up all their garbage and burn it, if they have to do that. The people of our country have enough fighting to do, against weather conditions, and all other enemies, and we have to take care of our own people.

December 08 2010 at 1:50 PM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply

wow, let me go, i think everyone should get cholera at least once

December 08 2010 at 1:16 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to David's comment

I so agree, David....it might actually make everyone have a little compassion for their fellow man who wasn't lucky enough to be born in America.

December 09 2010 at 2:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Now you know why NCO's do not want birth control, more starving children, more for their coffers. China was so right at restricting one child one family. These Hatians & Africans & black N. & S. Americans cannot afford to feed themselves, but the can still screw and have 5-10 kids a piece. The Hatians are blessed with the perfect weather (99% of time) and perfect scenry and all they do is sit on theier a... or screw and eat. Mother natuarl has decieded if man does not implement birth control, she will.

December 08 2010 at 12:59 PM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply

Nobody wants to say the magic word to solve a lot of the problems of the Third world; BIRTH CONTROL

December 08 2010 at 12:49 PM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply