Davidson Toussaint is succeeding where some thought he never would: in the Haiti tourism business. With Haiti Tourism Inc, the company he founded in 2011, Toussaint and his team of three (Yendy Cave, Marketing Director; Jacob Gay, Director of Public Relations; Mireille Toussaint, Vice President) pound the pavement daily, in search of new methods to market Haiti to the world.
And they don’t miss one arena. On social media networks like Facebook and Twitter, the Haiti Tourism Inc team is tireless, constantly sharing beautiful images of Haiti, and posting updates about positive developments regarding Haiti. On the company’s website, Haiti’s praises are sung endlessly. But Haiti Tourism Inc doesn’t just gush about Haiti online and call it a day; its members go out in the field to add substance to virtual claims. Haiti Tourism Inc regularly sponsors cultural activities and the company holds Haiti-themed excursions to help others discover the country’s underrated, and under-visited destinations. Haiti Tourism Inc team members attend trade fairs, conferences, and even pageants, to help spread the word about Haiti’s splendor.
Working from his office in Tampa, Florida, Davidson Toussaint wouldn’t want it any other way. He and his team plan to go at it for a long time, until he feels that Haiti has regained its place as a popular destination in the Caribbean. And even beyond that point.
Davidson Toussaint, Yendy Cave, Jacob Gay, and Mireille Toussaint gave us the low-down regarding the activities of Haiti Tourism Inc.
Q & A
How did Haiti Tourism Inc came to be conceptualized?
DAVIDSON TOUSSAINT: First and foremost, thank you for giving me this great opportunity to talk about Haiti Tourism Inc, a company that I truly love. Now, the concept of highlighting Haiti, her beauty, and her potentials to the world took place in the Dominican Republic. While a student at PUCMM—Pontificia Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra—I became tired of hearing people spewing negative stereotypes about Haiti and her image. I felt like I can do something to give Haiti a voice where I was at. I chose to be a catalyst of change. Indeed, while our dear country is termed ‘poor’ according to outsiders, it is rich in beauty and its potentials are limitless. With that mindset, I created a tour program for foreign students to expose the beauty and potentials of Haiti. Our first tour took place in 2007. It was a success. I named it Haitours. Eventually, I left the Dominican Republic for the United States. Seeing a greater need to expose more people to Haiti’s beauty and potentials, Haiti Tourism Inc came to existence with the vision of highlighting Haiti’s beauty and potentials to the world.
Was the response you got when you first presented the idea to others favorable?
DAVIDSON TOUSSAINT: The idea was favorable, theoretically speaking. Let me elaborate further, starting any business or organization is not easy. The ideas might be good, or great to some, but the actual work of launching that business or organization can be overwhelming. Sometimes you have to go against the naysayers and the doubters, bypassing them and keep pushing on for in your mind you envision a better Haiti and you want people to buy in as easily. At the same time, you realize you can’t convince everyone, so you build relationships with people who believe in the vision. Gradually, people began to understand the vision. Haiti Tourism Inc is not just about bringing tourists to Haiti; it is so much more. Now, we have a platform to show the potentials of the country; to show its beauty; to share our cultures to the world. We are exposing Haiti to the world and Haiti Tourism Inc. is doing its part with all of our resources.
What motivated you to become a part of Haiti Tourism Inc?
YENDY CAVE: I am a very country-oriented person. I always wanted to work for my country, do something different, stand out, and really help by my actions, and not simply words. When Davidson introduced me to the project, it seemed as if God had sent this to me as a mission, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it. I did not hesitate and barged in right away. It was for me an honor to be able to make a change for Haiti. The best part was that I would be doing something I love and something that would give me more experience in my domain. I am majoring in advertising and public relations with a minor in marketing. When Davidson approached me, it was to be the marketing director for Haiti Tourism Inc and I fit perfectly. I am so glad to be a part of this great organization and we are working hard to help developing tourism in Haiti
How did you become part of the Haiti Tourism Inc family?
JACOB GAY: I’m glad you refer to Haiti Tourism Inc as a family because I believe it is a family. I have known Davidson and his wife for some years. As my colleague, he approached me, explained me his vision and asked me if I would join this great endeavor. The timing was perfect for I had just obtained my Masters in Business Administration and was looking for such an organization to help with the skills I had just acquired. Then I was fortunate to meet Yendy through Davidson. I was elated to find out she was attending the same school I attended for my Bachelor of Arts as an undergrad. We continue to work as best as we can to promote the initiatives, goals and objectives of Haiti Tourism Inc while solidifying our commitment to see Haiti regain its moniker as the ‘Jewel of the Islands’.
In his book Stars Over Haiti, Anthony Hattenbach whose mother Muriel Shindler owned one of the biggest beach site resort s in Haiti in the 1970s in Haiti, recounts how each week three ships of tourists would land in Haiti, definitely a mass contrast to today. Do you think Haiti can regain this degree of popularity again with tourists?
DAVIDSON TOUSSAINT: Yes, I think and believe so. I don’t want to sound as naïve with my answer. Haiti like many other countries in the Caribbean has the natural advantage to be a world touristic destination. The same great beaches and historical places people used to visit in the 1970s are still there. The hospitality and tourism industry is growing rapidly. It is a Billion dollars industry and I envision it reaching the stratosphere. With a company like Haiti Tourism Inc., we can set a new precedent with our approaches. Our strategies should be are as follow: Identify locations that are favorable for touristic destinations, develop them organically—highlighting things specific to that location, educate the people in key performance indicators, ensure, enforce, and promote security; lastly committed to the development and growth of the location by getting everyone involved. After all, there is not only just strength in unity but also prosperity, and a sense of togetherness.
David Toussaint(far left), the CEO of Haiti Tourism Inc, presides at a meeting with staff members and they are: Yendy Cave, Haiti Tourism Inc’s Director of Marketing (to his right); Haiti Tourism’s former Director of International Relations (sitting at the head of conference table) Haiti Tourism Inc Vice President Mireille Toussaint (in purple).
As Vice President of the company, what void do you think Haiti Tourism Inc fills?
MIREILLE TOUSSAINT: Haiti Tourism Inc envisions itself as the bridge between the world and Haiti. We seek to highlight the true potentials of Haiti through our positive social media platforms and in our website. This is the void that I believe we are filling: projecting Haiti in a new light unto the world.
What are some of the challenges that come with running a business like Haiti Tourism Inc?
DAVIDSON TOUSSAINT: There are many challenges in running a business in general, but these challenges taught me valuable life experiences thus far. Besides the tedious relevancy associated with the cost of running a business, and logistics, I would like to go in detail with one of my greatest challenges. Haiti Tourism Inc. is not a sole proprietorship and we needed like-minded individuals to be part of the company. Some of them are friends, while others are acquaintances and business partners. The challenges with running an enterprise with friends posed many risks. Some decisions to be made are business decisions and not personal. Because of that, everyone in the team had to understand that this is a legitimate business and has dire consequences if the right business decision is not followed. We have had to sacrifice personal relationships but not to the detriment of our friendships. Our friendships will always be intact, but at the end of the day, if everyone contributes unequivocally—albeit personal feelings aside—we believe that Haiti Tourism Inc, will be a viable entity.
What words would you use to describe running your company?
MIREILLE TOUSSAINT: Fun. Delight. Passion. Involved. Guidance. Fruition. Reward. Happy.
How do you think Haiti looks to the rest of the world right now?
YENDY CAVE: To be honest, in general Haiti has never been seen in a great way from the rest of the world. We cannot blame them because the media usually only shows the bad that is happening to us. Although it is their job, it promotes us in an awful way, and people tend to be afraid to visit Haiti. They seem to have this horrible image and to them, Haiti is one of the most insecure and terrible places in the world. However, lately, many people have engaged themselves as to show the world the hidden side of Haiti. That is exactly our mission in Haiti Tourism Inc. Throughout, the help of the media and many Haitians who have engaged themselves to help us reach out to the world and show them what Haiti is in our eyes, the vision of Haiti has changed a lot in my opinion. It will take a while for people to be convinced that it is safe to come, and that Haiti is not only about poverty and insecurity. But I believe that with will and hard work, we will get there.
How are people responding to the efforts of your team? In Haiti, for example—as well as elsewhere?
DAVIDSON TOUSSAINT: The responses have been positive for the most part, but we also have encountered doubters who didn’t believe that what we were and are doing is benefiting Haiti as a whole. Nonetheless, we are been encouraged to continue with the many positive responses we’ve received in Haiti, and elsewhere. We have had the opportunity to visit different countries—from different states in the USA to Japan. We are truly humbled and grateful from the support of people around the world. These people are sharing, liking, and twitting our activities in the social networks. The reception has been incredible. We reached more than 8 million people in more than 90 countries around the world. It is worth to mention that we wouldn’t be where we are without tireless work from our great team. I’m grateful to be able to work with such a diverse of great young Haitian talents.
What public relations milestone have you experienced since coming on board as PR?
JACOB GAY: Seeing people’s perceptions and viewpoints about Haiti’s changing positively is truly a gem. I take great comfort knowing that my endeavors on behalf of Haiti Tourism inc is shaping people’s perceptions. Also, seeing the medias and other entities seek out our company for a reference, or for a story about Haiti is gratifying to the works that we are doing. Nevertheless, we are not done because this team believes in the vision that our CEO established since our foundation.
Companies like Haiti Tourism Inc are doing a great deal in changing how Haiti is viewed in the international community. What more do you think can be done to help your mission along?
DAVIDSON TOUSSAINT: Thank you for noticing, as well as the compliment. Sincerely, we couldn’t have accomplished these without your ardent support. Our mission is ingrained in our vision to be the purveyor of everything good coming out of Haiti. We make it our duty by choice to project Haiti in a positive fashion. We choose to educate the world about the beauty and potentials of our country, Haiti, through the positive things we align ourselves with. However, there are much more to be done. We need a coalition of people to continue to trot this movement forward. We need everyone to highlight Haiti for her beauty and her potentials. We are aware that Haiti is a work in progress, a country in transition. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to continue educate the world about the potentials that I see and advocate for dearly.
What’s an ordinary day like for the Haiti Tourism Inc team?
DAVIDSON TOUSSAINT: [Laughter] There’s no such thing as an ordinary day for our team. Kidding aside, we plan our work and we work the plan. This company is dear to our hearts, it is a privilege to do something we like and enjoy. We have a dedicated team who know their crafts and are always busy at creating ideas to put us at the forefront of highlighting Haiti’s potentials and beauty.
Anything about your past background that made starting Haiti Tourism Inc especially easier?
DAVIDSON TOUSSAINT: Growing up as a Boy Scout has allowed me to visit many cities and departments in Haiti. As a result, I developed a keen interest in discovering my country. Ultimately, the experiences I’ve had seeing the many beautiful places in Haiti made it easier for me to start Haiti Tourism Inc. I have seen the many picturesque locations throughout and I want to impress these same experiences on others; natural visuals that I know people will cherish forever. This is why I advocate passionately about not only to make Haiti part of your travel destinations but to also invest in the country’s development logistically, financially, and culturally.
As the person in charge of PR for Haiti Tourism Inc, what are your primary objectives?
JACOB GAY: With this being a young company, sometimes we find ourselves doing many tasks across the board. But, my primary objective is to help carve out a professional image of our company. I do this by constantly writing, reviewing, and editing memos, and other writings the company put out to the public. I also serve as a sound board for ideas that showcase our work to the public.
What advice would you give to others who are looking to start a career in hospitality, travel and tourism based on what you have learned in your own journey?
DAVIDSON TOUSSAINT: You have to pursue your heart’s passion. It is so much easier to do something when your heart is in it. Moreover, you will need to sacrifice certain things in order to see your dream realized. Not all of us studied in the field of hospitality, travel, and tourism, so you will need to devote yourself to learn about it and learn from others. There are people out there who have a plethora of knowledge and expertise on these fields of study. You just have to learn and surround yourself with not only these people but also others who share in your vision and commitment.
In five years, where do you see Haiti Tourism Inc heading as a company?
DAVIDSON TOUSSAINT: Initially, we started as a tour operator that not only focused on excursions, but in highlighting the potentials of Haiti through our diverse activities. These activities continue in operating our excursions but we have evolved into more of an entity that project the beauty of our dear country with all of our resources to the world. We have participated in events from Haiti, Miami to Japan, and elsewhere. These many activities fall under the umbrella in which we want to operate. We have partnered with individuals, other companies, and organizations to promote Haiti to the fullest. So in five years, continue to see us extend our excursion packages to be more inclusive, but also expect us to play a central role in working together with like-minded people or companies that are committed in seeing Haiti reclaim its moniker as the ‘Jewel of the islands’.
Why do you think that Haiti receives bad press for occurrences that are happening in other parts of the world that are themselves top tourist destinations?
JACOB GAY: It is all about perception and pre-conceived notions of and about Haiti. For so long all we’ve read has been negative news about our country. This is why a company like Haiti Tourism is effective in directing the narratives. No longer are people solely looking at the media for their narratives. We take it upon ourselves to open people’s eyes about what Haiti is through our social networks, our websites and events. We remain relentless in promoting the positive sides of Haiti, no matter what. In the end, we know we can’t control pre-conceived notions and stereotypes, but we choose to highlight Haiti as best as possible. After all, it is our dear country.
What’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur?
DAVIDSON TOUSSAINT: There are so many valuable things about being an entrepreneur. For me, the idea of using one’s creative ability to start a legacy is thrilling and inspiring. Along the way, you have the opportunities to meet pioneers, connect with great individuals, as well as overcoming challenges. Knowing that what I do and love can influence a community, a country, and the world is what motivates me to move forward on a daily basis. Lastly, thank you again for giving me this platform to share myself with your audience all over the world. I truly appreciate you. Have a blessed day.
Any other thoughts?
MIREILLE TOUSSAINT: I am just elated to have had this platform to share my thoughts with the world. I thank you again for this opportunity. I have high hope for our dear country and I truly believe in her potentials. My work will not be done until I see Haiti reclaim her moniker as the ‘Jewel of the Caribbean’.
YENDY CAVE: If I were to give any thoughts, it would be firstly to everyone out there, to tell them that Haiti IS beautiful, Haiti IS special, and they can only discover it by giving it a try and i can promise, they will not be disappointed. My other message would be for my fellow Haitians. Help promote Haiti as much as you can, because each word and each action is necessary to help the country move forward. Promoting Haiti’s beauty, talking about its magnificent monuments, telling the world how amazing this place is to you, can and will make a difference. Be proud and show it.