One of the most influential figures in the Haiti tourism game isn’t Haitian born, but a native of Minnesota name Terry Curtis, better known by the social media handle Haiti Travel Guy. Having visited the country shortly after the 2010 earthquake, the travel consultant has seen the country’s transition from post-earthquake territory to the reconstruction phase. Seeing the country’s tourism potential, he started Haiti Travel Adventures, a Haiti tourism and travel consulting venture.
Above: Haiti Travel Guy (right) explores the city of Gonaives! A visit to a furniture maker in that city.
Kreyolicious: What’s new with Haiti Travel Guy and tour tour company Haiti Travel Adventures?
I can’t believe its been six years since I first stepped foot into Haiti. In those six years, I’ve seen a lot of change. The first two, three years, there was a lot of growth in new hotels, restaurants and businesses in the central business district of Port-Au-Prince and Petionville. Over the past couple of years, that’s slowed down with fewer and fewer NGO’s and UN on the ground. Prices across the segments have come down. Rent is cheaper. The dollar is higher and demand is down. But for some, that’s not all good. Haiti continues to remain in a stage of “development” along with being unstable and unpredictable. But for some instability equals cash. Just not tourism cash. Tourism travel is still limited to those a little more adventurous. Many are visiting the neighboring Dominican Republic, and want to take the bus over for a day or two to see the country. Having started my efforts in 2010 a lot of people doing research will find me online. I get two to three calls a week from someone looking for more information regarding traveling to Haiti. Typically solo adventure travelers, photographers, artists and diaspora.
Above: It’s jazz night in Petionville. Photo Credit: Haiti Travel Guy
Kreyolicious: Have you ever been approached by Haiti tourism officials for collaborations?
No. But I don’t really offer group tours as much as I provided one-on-one services. I’ve helped small groups, but its just not my thing. It’s not how I ever wanted to travel and group tours is just not something everyone is looking for. When I travel, I spend time building social equity with neighborhoods, families and people. Once established, I enjoy the things like being invited into a small home for a traditional Haitian meal or having a beer at a small establishment deep inside a bidonville [inner-city]. These are things that are difficult to do with a group of people, and in most cases, I am only with one or two other travelers seeking that sort of access to the culture. In the past few years there have been some great collaborations in organized tour companies offering group tours a few times a year. Belle Vue and My Haiti Travels are two that have been successful and that I’ve recommended to most.
For me, this mission to show people a different Haiti has become more of a passion than a business mission. Often times, I find myself consulting with folks on travel plans, finding hotels and places to visit. I’ve helped people relocate to Haiti to start businesses and diaspora looking to return and retire. Still today, most of the folks who contact me are from countries other than the United States. Most inquiries from the U.S. are from Haitian diaspora who left Haiti as a child and are now interested in returning and for some reason seem to trust a crazy blan to help them. [Smiles] The most rewarding part for me is to be traveling back to Haiti and someone on the plane will recognize me and say something like “hey you helped me visit Haiti five years ago and now we visit all the time”. For me, that’s how Haiti is going to change. People visiting and investing their time and money.
Above: Salt flats in Gonaives. Photo Credit: Haiti Travel Guy
Kreyolicious: What are some tourism improvements you’ve seen since you’ve been in Haiti?
If any…As I mentioned, the hotels have been a big improvement. After the big ones came, all the small family-owned boutique hotels that offer a great experience. Roads have been built and improvements to others are taking place. But the single biggest need from the government is infrastructure. You have to build it—and maintain it.
It’s probably my first choice now for retirement. Excellent little city with sidewalks, green space, beaches, businesses and restaurants without all the hassle of Port Au Prince and Petionville. They have their own airport, real taxis, and the people there just seem to be more relaxed.
This concludes Part I of the interview with Haiti Travel Guy. While you wait for Part II, be sure to follow Haiti Travel Guy on TWITTER and INSTAGRAM. And don’t forget to visit his website and get information on how to book him for you next vacation to Haiti: —HERE!