From Wed Dec 25 19:00:07 2002
Date: Wed, 25 Dec 2002 17:22:52 -0600 (CST)
From: Bob Corbett <>
To: Haiti mailing list <>
Subject: 14174: Florestal: Herald - Hilton Hotel in Haiti by 2005 (fwd)

From: Jean-Marie Florestal <>

Betting on its brand name, Hilton sees a future in Haiti: Poor economy, protests fail to dim chain’s vision

By Marika Lynch, The Miami Herald, Friday 20 December 2002

HIGH HOPES: The walls are to be 15 feet tall in the planned Hilton D’Haiti in Port-au-Prince. The 196-unit, $52.5 million complex is shooting for a 2005 opening.

Haiti’s economy is contracting, street protests are routine, and the U.S. State Department has all but suggested that visitors stay away.

Yet Hilton sees an opportunity for business in Port-au-Prince.

Early next year, across the street from the capital’s airport, investors will officially break ground on a 196-unit hotel that would be the Caribbean nation’s largest.

The Hilton D’Haiti hopes to attract business people seeking to slip into the country and avoid the trek—and the safety risks—of heading downtown. Travelers will be able to rent an extended-stay apartment and office space as well as shop and eat at three restaurants, all without stepping outside the hotel’s 15-foot-high wall.

A lot of people who don’t stay overnight now or who don’t go to Haiti at all because there’s not a branded hotel will find a sense of security and familiarity with a brand like Hilton, said Bruce Baxter, president of the Coral Gables-based InnVest Inc., the project’s consultant.

Though Hilton will manage the hotel, the $52.5 million complex is being built by Harding Enterprises of Louisville, Ky., which owns the Haitian cigarette company Comme Il Faut and a food-distributorship business. The two businesses are located close to the airport, an area that is evolving as an industrial hub.

Investors say a Hilton will attract new businesses to Haiti. They also hope that the political turmoil—protests have grown in recent weeks as the government and opposition leaders remain deadlocked over disputed 2000 elections—will have cooled by the time of the hotel’s scheduled opening in 2005.

Hilton D’Haiti will be the country’s only international-brand hotel. Haiti’s Club Med closed, and Holiday Inn pulled its name off a downtown hotel a few years ago. Currently, business travelers tend to stay in one of four upscale hotels that have a total of 374 rooms, according to an industry index. The Hilton will add 50 percent more rooms.

The heyday of Haitian tourism came in the 1970s, when foreigners toured art galleries and sampled the local cuisine. Now, most tourists are business people, missionaries or aid workers.

And while 141,000 people visited Haiti last year, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization, only about a third stayed in hotels. Occupancy nationwide varies from 30 percent to 50 percent, said Elisabeth Silvera Ducasse, president of the Haitian Tourism Association.

Despite that, word of the Hilton project has been received well by business leaders and even by local hoteliers, said Ducasse, who is also managing director of the family-owned El Rancho hotel in the suburb of Petionville.

I remember, she said, my father always telling us: ‘If new companies come into Haiti with names that are known all over the world, it will attract more people to come here.’

Her only worry, Ducasse said, is that if the Hilton fails to draw travelers, it might have to lower prices below local market value, which in turn might drain business from her and other locally owned hotels.

The 27-acre Hilton complex was designed by OBM International, a Coral Gables-based firm that has been involved in projects around the Caribbean and done consulting work for the Village of Key Biscayne.

The biggest challenge it has to face is Haiti’s international reputation, said John Bell, director general and chief executive of the Caribbean Hotel Association, which is based in Puerto Rico. One has to hope and believe this current trauma the country is going through has to have an end.