A room at Karibe Hotel, which recently added a new wing with 100 rooms // © Karibe Hotel 2014
Feature image (above): The new Best Western Premier Petionville is getting attention for its stylish design and Haitian art. // © 2014 Best Western Premier Petion-Ville
Haiti has been off-stage as a preferred tourism destination for years, if not decades. That is in the process of changing. A dynamic tourism master plan and fresh perceptions about the country have helped earn Haiti a spot on lists touting the hot destinations for 2015.
During a recent visit, I received an overview of the accommodation options in Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince and the nearby suburb of Petionville. Travel agents will be delighted to learn that there’s plenty of variety in Haiti’s hotel product, from quaint hotels with Caribbean gingerbread detailing to sleek and modern accommodations.
Due the 2010 earthquake that hit Haiti and the subsequent damage in Port-au-Prince, many of its residents moved to Petionville, which overlooks the capital. Some of the best hotels are now located in Petionville, a neighborhood sometimes referred to as “Haiti’s Beverly Hills.”
One note: Traffic between Port-au-Prince and Petionville can be very heavy and slow moving at peak travel times, so if clients have extensive business in the capital, placing them in a Port-au-Prince hotel will reduce exhausting hours on the road. Leisure travelers with a more forgiving schedule will likely prefer Petionville’s quieter ambiance and a sense of greater security.
There’s a considerable amount of excitement over Marriott Port-au-Prince Hotel, on track to open in February. A specific date has yet to be announced. Former U.S. president Bill Clinton will be in attendance to celebrate the inauguration of the 175-room hotel, which has a central presence in the capital. The hotel is taking a responsible approach in hiring by focusing on employing Haitian women, who in many cases are sole supporters of their families.
NH Haiti El Rancho is considered to be the most expensive and luxurious accommodations in Petionville and Port-au-Prince, with the atmosphere of a boutique luxury hotel. The property, which has only 72 guestrooms, recently saw completed a renovation to the tune of $18 million. Over the years, the hotel was popular with well-known individuals such as Richard Burton, a Welsh actor, and Nelson Rockefeller, the 41st vice president of the U.S.
Royal Oasis by Occidental has the feeling of a resort in the middle of the city, and reminded me of mid-market properties in the Dominican Republic. When I mentioned this to Agustin Valverde, general manager of Royal Oasis by Occidental Hotels & Resorts, he responded, “It will take 15 years for Haiti to create a Punta Cana-type leisure product.”
Not all agree with Valverde’s assessment.
“Do we have to be Punta Cana?” asked Richard Butler, general manager of Karibe Hotel. “Is that our goal? No. We want to be Haiti. The Caribbean, in many instances, is white-sand beaches. Haiti has so much diversity to offer — music, dance, history, cuisine. We are ready right now to welcome tourists.”
Karibe Hotel recently opened a wing of 100 guestrooms, bringing the property’s guestroom count up to 187. The hotel’s main building was a former monastery from the 1920s, and the original trees are still on the property and viewable from many of the rooms. A nice feature in the new wing is the oversize desks, perfect for travelers expecting to do a lot of work while on the road. Karibe Hotel also has a stylish rooftop lounge, featuring music mixed by a DJ and tapas-style dishes.
Butler was present during Haiti’s meetings with Fonatur, Mexico’s national trust for the promotion of tourism. Haiti had reached out to Fonatur for advice about developing tourism in Haiti, and the national trust's famous response: “Don’t do what we did in Cancun.”
“Mexico’s Riviera Maya and Riviera Nayarit are better examples of the kind of responsible development we’ll be creating in Haiti,” Butler said.
Hotel Montana is a historic hotel that has been owned by the same family since 1947. The property offers a serene setting perched on a hill high above the city, making it a good recommendation for travelers seeking a quiet refuge at the end of the day. The 70-room hotel had quite a job digging out from the 2010 earthquake, since 90 percent of the hotel was destroyed. Hotel Montana is in the process of adding 40 more guestrooms, although they are not expected to be finished until 2017.
Best Western Premier Petion-Ville opened in 2014 and made a splash. There’s nothing cookie-cutter about the property. The hotel gets high marks for its use of traditional Haitian art in its interior design, and its Wednesday night happy-hour party in the rooftop terrace bar has become popular with a local crowd who all arrive dressed to impress. Lots of dancing and imbibing as a DJ spins tunes make Best Western Premier Petion-Ville the place to be seen.
Clients seeking quaint hotels with Caribbean gingerbread design and eclectic furnishings will enjoy being booked into the older wing of Kinam Hotel. The property also has a modern, newer wing, for guests preferring more up-to-date amenities. Kinam Hotel is ideal for groups whose members have varying tastes and expectations.