When Paul Clammer was initially commissioned to write a Haiti edition of the famous Bradt Travel Guides, things were looking somewhat promising, but not altogether bright for Haiti tourism. It was the early 2010s, and Haiti had just gone through a catastrophic earthquake. A few years later, not only are there more than one bright spots on the Haiti tourism horizon, but Clammer is writing an updated version of his book.
Kreyolicious: Ooh, I see that the new cover features a lady in traditional costume, whereas the first edition showed a young boy at the beach, with a canoe on deck. Does this mean that the new edition will be more culture-focused?
We had various photographers pitch images to us for the cover, and this was the cover that got picked from the shortlist! It’s a discussion between the editors, the marketing people and myself. The main idea for the cover of the first edition was to announce that despite certain media preconceptions, Haiti is a really beautiful country that happens to be in the Caribbean – a really beautiful part of the planet. So let’s highlight that! This time around the book is established, and maybe the idea of travel to Haiti is a little more established too, so we can approach it more like a regular travel guide.
As to having a more of a focus on culture, I’ve tried to continue what we started in the last edition and make the content deeper. The book’s bibliography has a lot more Haitian writers in it this time around, and we’ve got shout-outs to lots of things like Plezikanaval and Carel Pedre to why kremas is such a popular drink. Hopefully all those little things add up to make the book stronger.
Above: Paul Clammer in Haiti.
Kreyolicious: What are some of the feedback that you received for the first?
I think a lot of people were surprised just to see it to be honest! Even when I was researching the first edition I don’t think a lot of people I met thought the book was going to be a real thing. So getting any feedback at all was nice! But I think the best reaction has been that the book has somehow been part of the narrative that Haiti can be a genuine travel destination now. We hear a lot from the Ministry of Tourism of course, but having a guidebook publisher come along completely independently is a bit of extra recognition. A number of times I was at a hotel or guesthouse and the manager told me that they’d had bookings because people have read about them in my book. Being able to direct readers to new places or experiences is my favourite part of writing guidebooks. If people go and have a good time, support those businesses and put money into the local economy, that’s a pretty virtuous travel circle as far as I’m concerned.
Above: The author tries on a carnival mask in Jacmel. Photo Credit: Paul Clammer.
Kreyolicious: I remember the last time I interviewed you, if I remember correctly, you said that Jacmel is your fave spot in Haiti. Is that still the case? Or has another area in Haiti stolen that honor?
Jacmel remains somewhere very close to my heart! What I particularly loved about my visit this time was seeing how it’s developed in the last few years in terms of facilities for visitors. The new boardwalk along the seafront is a delight, there are all the mosaics dotted around the town, the tourist information office, new restaurants and bars. And it was great to see a new local tour company, Experience Jacmel running really professional trips – everything from food tours to getting to paint your own papier-maché carnival mask.
Above: The cover of the upcoming guide, second edition. Image Credit: Bradt Travel Guide.
Kreyolicious: Your first foray into Haiti when you were writing a dual guide to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. And then, of course there was the first edition of your book. Was your approach be different this time around…in terms of information gathering?
No. It’s more about building on the existing book really. I was pretty pleased with what I’d written when it first came out, so this trip was about testing in the field – what stands up, what needs to change. For example, the book had quite a lot of historic sites listed in the north, especially near Cap-Haitien. But when I was there a for the update I realized that they were strewn throughout the text in a way that made them quite hard to find. So I’ve reorganised it all completely and added a new map that highlights them all to make it easier to access. So if people are in Cap they’ll know that you can make some pretty interesting day trips and not just go and see the Citadelle and think, well – what now?
Kreyolicious: You’re based in Britain. Do you think that Londoners are keen to Haiti at this point, the way they were during what historians called Haiti’s golden age?
I’m going to be honest – Haiti isn’t really on the UK’s radar all that much, although Haiti did open an embassy in London a couple of years ago. However, the British travel market has long been pretty good at recognizing new destinations, and there are several companies there selling Haiti as a cultural or adventure travel destination. I actually ran into a tour group while I was in Port-au-Prince. They were having a great time but were actually starting and finishing their trip in Santo Domingo, because flight connections from the UK to Haiti usually involve an awkward layover in Miami or New York.
Kreyolicious: For sure…Out of all the touristic developments that have taken place in the past year, which do you feel is the most conducive to Haiti tourism.
I’m going to take my hat off to the Ministry of Tourism here. They’ve done a great job marketing Haiti. But from the perspective of someone who has worked in the travel industry a long time, what impressed me most was that this hasn’t just been a cute line for social media, they’re trying to follow it up with real action on the ground. The travel industry in Haiti is professionalizing in a way that’s very heartening to see. Obviously, there are the international brands like Marriott, Best Western and Decameron who have decided that Haiti is somewhere worth investing, but in terms of logistics and infrastructure there have been some big concrete improvements.
This also filters down to the roots. I mentioned the tour company I spent time with in Jacmel. At the end of my time with them, they gave me a questionnaire and as well as asking me what I liked. They asked what they got wrong and how they could change that. They weren’t content just to rest on their laurels, they wanted to improve their business so they could grow it. Another example is in Dondon. It’s not a town a lot of people go to, but they’ve got some really interesting caves with Taino carvings. So some people got together and formed a local tourist association so they could get organised to attract visitors so that those assets benefit the whole community. They weren’t waiting for the tourism minister to give them their blessing or for an NGO to come and do some capacity building, they just went ahead and set it up themselves. I was thrilled to be able to write about them in the new guidebook.
[Photo Credit: All photos by Paul Clammer, unless otherwise noted.]
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