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Voluntourism Could Be Haiti’s Only Hope

January 15, 2010 By: Joe Pike

So, I was at the Sheraton Hotel & Casino in San Juan, Puerto Rico late Tuesday afternoon when some other reporters there asked me if I felt the tremors. 

Several reporters and delegates who attended the 2010 Caribbean Marketplace said windows were shaking and lights were shuddering for a few seconds. 

It was shortly after that we learned we were feeling the ripples of one of the most devastating tragedies to ever hit the Caribbean.

Now, of course 45,000-50,000 people already being reported dead is obviously first and foremost an immensely sad human interest story, so, by no means am I downgrading the severity of this by focusing on the tourism aspect of it all.

But that’s what we do here – look for the travel angle of any story. And when you look at that aspect, you find yet another heartbreaking tale.

You see, Haiti was merely months away from making itself a major player amongst U.S. travelers. In fact, we were on the cusp of rolling out a feature article about why your clients will be going there.

Some reasons why include Royal Caribbean’s recent launch of a $55 million dollar project in early December in building a new port in Labadee to welcome Oasis of the Seas passengers; Haiti poured $19 million to upgrade its famous Oasis complex, which once housed the Le Picardie restaurant frequented by the likes of Marlon Brando and Walter Cronkite. Within walking distance of the Oasis, an upscale Best Western was rising, soon to become the country's first new international-brand hotel in a decade. Finally, a new Hillside boutique hotel, restaurant, lounge and disco opened its doors in the heart Port-Au-Prince.

These developments, coupled with an array of new tours and attractions, meant Haiti was geared up to be the next new major Caribbean getaway this side of Cuba.

And then tragedy hit.

Although we still don’t know what developments have been damaged, it’s safe to say tourism to Haiti is going to have to take a back seat for a long time regardless.

With that said, if there is anything good that came of this, it's that all eyes are on Haiti. Americans are finally becoming fully aware of the awful living situations many of the locals have endured there for years, before the tragedy.

When life on the island begins to return to normalcy, the American traveler will not soon forget how much the country needs us – our help and our money.

Enter voluntourism.

I would not recommend anyone who is not a trained professional to visit there for a long time since reports of violence and airborne diseases seem to be coming out by the hour.

But when the first, second and perhaps third waves of initial chaos begin to subside (probably a good six months or so), you will see our big-hearted travel community make its way there in much the same fashion they did in New Orleans following Katrina.

Waves of tourists will visit to Haiti to rebuild churches, schools and businesses and, hopefully, while lending a helping hand, they will also see the natural beauty this island holds.

But first things first. Let's all pray for the many people who have died or remain missing.

And when the smoke clears, begin tapping into your clients with big hearts and promote voluntourism to Haiti. They need our help and our tourist dollars more than any island in the Caribbean ever has.

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