This is part three of a guest series about a trip to Haiti. You can read part one here and part two here. A friend, “Captain”, who travels frequently to the Caribbean for work took a trip to Haiti with Delta and the Haiti Department of tourism to explore the country, people, culture and get a sense of how this country is recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2010.
Port au Prince, Haiti had been devoid of US and European Hotel Chains ever since Holiday Inn pulled out many years ago. The demand was simply not there. However, with any tragedy such as the 2010 earthquake, comes the need to rebuild. The state of Florida, where I am from, went through a nice boom once the rebuilding effort following Hurricane Andrew kicked into high gear. Port au Prince is at that point now, with an influx of much needed investment in the form of skilled labor and experienced management from the US, Europe and Latin America. The obvious supply and demand issue, along with the keen eye for investment opportunities by both locals and foreigners alike, has set in motion the construction of several chain hotels from the US and Europe. After spending 5 days touring Haiti, I can say with confidence that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The first of these chains to break ground was the Occidental Royal Oasis located in Petion-Ville, Haiti. Petion-Ville is a suburb of Port au Prince that has blossomed following the devastation of the earthquake. Many of the buildings that housed the downtown businesses in Port au Prince were severely damaged. These business owners, whose livelihood depended upon staying open through the rebuild, were forced to relocate outside of Port au Prince. Petion-Ville has been the main benefactor.
The Royal Oasis property was actually envisioned and started prior to the 2010 earthquake, however the tragedy killed half of the initial investors, closed the project for 8 months and created a large deficit. New investment came in the form of a combination of local money and a 2 million dollar investment from the Clinton-Bush Fund. When the venture was completed December 12th, 2012, it was a beacon of hope within a city still trying to find direction. It brought together locals and foreigners of all socio-economic backgrounds, in the completion of a project that just a few years earlier seemed untouchable. The hotel is a beautiful combination of shops, gardens, restaurants, rooms and connectivity. During the day, the buzz of business is heard amongst the bamboo and orchids outside the hotel as well as in the lobby surrounded by the local Haitian art. The rooms are large, modern, and clean, leaving absolutely nothing to be desired, even for the most seasoned of travelers. I would also recommend spending at least one night eating at La Villa Restaurant, where Chef David Marrugat displays his tremendous talent.
The first major US Chain to open in the Port au Prince metro area was the Best Western Premiere. The hotel itself opened for business on April 8th and has seen 100% capacity ever since. As an international business traveler, a refuge in a country like Haiti becomes even more important. Best Western and their local investors have done a magnificent job of providing their guests with an experience you would expect in a mid to upscale property in the US. The lobby makes you feel right at home, with a combination of modern touches and local art. One can find it very easy to relax at this property following a hard day of work. Blow off some steam in the beautiful fitness center then take a dip in the outdoor pool. Grab a rum punch, made with Haiti’s own Barbancourt, at the patio bar overlooking the city. Chef Mario Peters has put together quite a collection of international meals at his famous Le Michel restaurant. General Manager Ronald K. Maidens has done a fantastic job of bringing consistency to this property, ensuring all aspects his Best Western Premier operate above and beyond what is deemed acceptable by the everyday business traveler.
Another European Hotel Chain will be opening later this month when the renovations of a former hotspot are completed. El Rancho Hotel was once a destination for the rich and famous in Haiti when playboy Albert Silvera owned and operated it. Celebrities from Liz Taylor to Mick Jagger frequented the hotel for both relaxation and the never ending party contained within the hotels iron gates. The president of Haiti, Michel Martelly, used to play at the hotel with his band when he was better known as Sweet Micky in the mid to late 80’s. The hotel was purchased by Spanish Chain, NH Hotels, which owns and manages over 400 properties around the world. 72 rooms will be available at the time of the opening but 50 more are planned for an adjoining building. The El Rancho is a thing of beauty with its 1960’s architecture surrounding a present day resort style pool spread across several acres of lush foliage.
Digicel, a telecom company, has a 175 room hotel under construction in Port au Prince. After the earthquake, when rooms were very scarce, they decided to solve the problem themselves. The company needed a more consistent housing plan for its hundreds of temporary employees that come and go on a weekly basis.
Management at Digicel realized that they would need help running a hotel and thus contacted Marriott International for what seems like a perfect partnership. Under the guidance of project manager Brian Gruber, construction is moving along and is on schedule to open February 2015 under the Marriott brand name.