Voodoo and violence are probably the two things most people would associate with Haiti. In many ways, this sums up the conundrum for any prospective tourist: the country’s vibrant culture makes it a fascinating place to visit, but only when it is safe to do so.
Haiti has a unique but chaotic political history. The world’s oldest black-led republic, and the only one established on the back of a successful rebellion by slaves (~95 per cent of today’s population is of African descent), it has endured colonization by both Spain and France, occupation by the US, and then decades of brutal dictatorship, unstable governance and civil unrest.
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Even now the general security situation is poor, so we recommend checking the UK Foreign Office travel advice. The use of internal flights, however, makes internal travel less hazardous – roads are in poor condition and there have been bouts of kidnapping.
Plagued with this turbulent past and various natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes and made worse by serious deforestation – Haiti is perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the poorest countries in the world. The 2010 earthquake affected 3.5 million people, with around 220,000 people killed. Haiti and its people, especially the Capital Port au Prince, are still recovering.
In terms of Geography, Haiti has a landmass of 27,500 square kilometres – similar in size to Belgium. Haiti is located in the north of the Caribbean Sea and shares a land boarder with the Dominican Republic. As of 2015, Haiti had a population of 10.5 million people.
In 2012, Haiti welcomed around 300,000 international visitors. However, major cruise operator, Royal Caribbean, leases out a beach in Haiti and has built a private resort for their guests. In 2014 alone, Royal Caribbean brought 600,000 international cruise guests to the beaches of Haiti, dropping in for the day for a quick swim before continuing their journey. Whilst this influx of tourists sounds good, the positive impact on the local community and local economy is in question.
If you do decide to visit, you will further encounter a rich tradition of dance, music and folk art, delicious Caribbean-French fusion cooking and a very warm welcome. Voodoo holds an important cohesive role in society, as well as being of fundamental religious and spiritual significance.
Its traditions are perhaps closer to Africa than other Caribbean countries. Its art is internationally acclaimed and its colonial architecture a gem – for example, the Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince, setting for Graham Greene’s The Comedians. Haiti, as a whole, is like Greene’s prose – beautiful, tortured and mysterious.
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
Displacement of Local Peoples:
Tourism development has caused many communities to be forcibly displaced. Indigenous groups, people living in informal settlements, or people who lack official title deeds to their lands are particularly vulnerable to displacement or loss of access to lands and waters essential for their livelihoods. This often happens with little or no warning, compensation or alternative provision.
Governments and private companies have forced many tribal peoples from their ancestral lands to make way for national parks and so called ‘eco-tourism’. Fishing communities are removed from their coastal villages and blocked from accessing the sea as hotels are built and beaches are privatised, destroying livelihoods and traditional ways of life. Informal settlements are bulldozed under beautification projects in the lead up to major international sporting events.
The Haiti Support Group (HSG) seeks to amplify the voice of progressive civil society organisations (CSOs) in Haiti to the public, the press and politicians in Europe and North America. In 2015 they have been highlighting the recent land grabs & violence taking place on the island of Haiti, especially at Île-à-Vache.
To learn more, check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Land displacement:
Cruise ships & workers rights:
In the Caribbean, for example, which is the world’s busiest cruise zone, many cruise lines employ European officers, with North American and Western European staff in the business and entertainment jobs, supported by a crew from the poorest parts of the developing world. These workers are often paid low wages and labour in shoddy working conditions. ‘Conditions for workers below deck haven’t improved in decades’, said an inspector with the International Transport Workers Federation.
‘Many are reluctant to come forward and complain. To most people, workers on cruise liners are nonentities. They have an almost invisible existence.’
Labadee is a pristine beach in Haiti which is leased out by Cruise line operator, Royal Caribbean. Labadee saw more than 600,000 tourists in 2014, cruisers can disembarked from the ship for a daily visit to the private resort – however, you will not find many local people here.
Cruise ships are also caught up in issues relating to the economic exclusion impacts on port destinations, along with various environmental issues. The Cruise ship industry has a poor reputation for its waste-dumping practices which can create pressure on small countries with limited refuse sites, or can contaminate the sea.
According to the Bluewater network, now part of Friends of the Earth, a typical one-week cruise generates 50 tonnes of waste and thousands of gallons of grey water (waste from sinks and showers and so on) and sewage. Almost all is dumped: some is treated, some is not. And while the powerful cruise companies claim that they have done much to reduce pollution, the laws are lax, regulations often ignored and the majority of the big companies have convictions for dumping. Environmentalists are also increasingly worried by larger and larger cruise ships visiting such pristine environments as Antarctica and the Galapagos.
To learn more, check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Cruise ships:
Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.
Taking photos of friendly local people can be a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.
To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on ethical photography: https://tourismconcern.wpengine.com/ethical-photography/
Religious festivals & Animal sacrifice:
Voodoo ceremonies and festivals take place in Haiti to celebrate spiritual traditions. In many cases, animals such as chickens, goats and bulls are often sacrificed as part of the ceremony. See more at Right Tourism; http://right-tourism.com/issues/traditions-and-festivals/#sthash.7JsRbeoV.dpbs
Destruction of the local ecosystem for Tourism Development:
“Destination Île-à-Vache” is a government-driven tourist project planned for a small island off the northern coast of Haiti, Île-à-Vache. The project was announced in August, 2013, without the inclusion or participation of the community. As part of the plans, huge areas of local flora & fauna were to be cleared and replaced by an international airport, golf courses, 1,500 hotel bungalows, agri-tourism, and “tourist villages” encompassing boutiques, restaurants and a night club.
To learn more about the Île-à-Vache situation follow this link: https://tourismconcern.wpengine.com/the-battle-for-paradise-land-grabs-forced-expulsions-protests-on-ile-a-vache-haiti/