Business & Finance

Elizabeth’s First Republic Restaurant Boosts Haiti Tourism

Owners of The First Republic, left and 2nd from right, host the Road Show's only New Jersey event with ladies dressed in traditional Haitian finery. Credits: Photo by C. Gregory Chase
Experts include Emmanuelle Buteau of Buteau Hospitality, Elsa Sammartano, of Marriott's Port-Au-Prince Hotel, and Pascale Hilaire of Haiti's tourism ministry. Credits: Photo by C. Gregory Chase

ELIZABETH, NJ - Haiti’s campaign to promote pleasure trips to its rising tourist areas continued with a four-city tour launched Tuesday at a local venue favored by New Jerseyans familiar with the country and its rich cultural heritage.

Building on that legacy, the government’s Haiti Road Show met an enthusiastic crowd at the First Republic Restaurant and Lounge in Elizabeth, the first of four U.S. cities.

An expert team of the department led a multimedia “tour” of the country’s treasures from its friendly faces of hospitality to its special security forces dedicated to tourist areas and the Caribbean nation’s enduring natural beauty. Airlines now fly to Haiti from many U.S. cities. Representing Haiti’s Ministry of Tourism and Creative Industries was Pascale Hilaire, Coordinator of Travel Specialists, Promotions and Events.

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Hotel officials shared four-star tourist amenities and surprisingly low prices, and gave away a five-day luxury vacation package by raffle drawing. A glance at shows hotels with rates as low as $82.

Marketing Manager Emmanuelle Buteau of the family-owned Buteau Hospitality said the firm invested tens of millions of dollars already in recent years improving their hotels in order to help reinvigorate the economy and help Haitians recover from what has been a difficult job market. It operates the Karibe, Servotel and Kinam hotels in the area of Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital.

Haiti, whose struggle for independence from France became the most successful slave rebellion ever in 1804, has significant riches in literature, artistic achievements and natural resources. But with 80 percent of people already below the poverty line, the 2010 earthquake caused $7.8 billion in damage.  Its economy began recovering from the earthquake in 2011, but two hurricanes and low capital investment slowed its recovery in 2012.

“First Republic was established to really uphold the image of Haiti,” said Stanley Neron, a co-owner and founder of the restaurant at 1204 East Grand St. east of Broad Street. “Whenever you hear news about Haiti, (media) tell you it’s the poorest country in the hemisphere” not mentioning the wealth of attractions Haiti offers, said Neron, a member of Elizabeth’s school board.

During Q&A with the industry experts, a Rutgers instructor asked what was being done about State Department travel warnings that make it difficult to take student groups to visit the island. Some college programs aren’t allowed travel to areas with any travel warnings.

“More hotels, tourists and the diaspora (people of Haitian descent) coming to Haiti will decrease the (travel warnings),” replied Hilaire of the tourism ministry. It was not immediately clear whether there were any current travel restrictions. The State Department issued an August 2015 travel warning that appears on its website: “Hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Haiti each year, but the poor state of Haiti’s emergency response network should be carefully considered when planning travel.”

Elsa Sammartano, sales & marking director of Marriott’s Port-Au-Prince Hotel, said the hotel contains at least 1,500 of local works of art, its staff primarily chosen for their approachable faces and helpful, guest-friendly personalities.

“Tourism is the key” to Haiti’s economic future, said Christian Fombrun of Decameron Hotels and Resorts, an international chain of high-end, all-inclusive beach resorts that is upgrading its Royal Decameron Indigo Beach Resort, a former Club Med soon to re-open. “Construction, agriculture, artists will be needed,” he said, to support continued growth of tourism.

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