There’s no other way to put it: when Dina Simon launched her firm MyHaitiTravels Global, LLC in 2013, she stepped out on faith. Simon had an impressive and long-running career as a civil servant, but always wanted to start her own travel and tours business with Haiti as a destination. But the country was still experiencing disaster vertigo from an earthquake three years before. Could her concept work? From the success that Simon has enjoyed in her first year of business, the answer to that question is a loud and firm, “Yes”. Two trips and counting with Haitians and non-Haitians discovering and rediscovering the country, MyHaitiTravels has become more than a business venture for Simon. It’s been an outlet to show others—as well as herself—a Haiti beyond Port-au-Prince, a Haiti more beautiful than a Google Image search could ever fathom.
MyHaitiTravels is a year old. What have you learned regarding Haiti through this venture?
Haiti is complex and I’m still trying to better understand her. Yet, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
What are some the hardest-hitting lessons you’ve learned regarding entrepreneurship and owning a travel and tourism business your first year of business?
Don’t rely on anyone for your success. Take a lot of risks. Last year when we planned our first annual tour we had no idea how it would turn out. We did not meet our goal, but we knew we had a good formula so we made some tweaks. We learned how to better position our message and how to engage our potential clients across all platforms.
What are your thoughts on the current state of Haiti’s tourism industry?
Haiti’s tourism industry has tremendous potential. We’re starting to hear and see more positive things about Haiti and we have a government that is highly engaged in making tourism a success. My company is doing a tremendous job in showcasing Haiti as well as securing key partnerships to enable more people to see Ayiti through our eyes. Haiti is rebuilding its tourism industry by investing in infrastructure, training, and ensuring that tourism is sustainable. I’m very excited about that. There are also a lot of individuals working on behalf of Haiti to make sure that the tourism industry becomes successful for the people of Haiti.
I think a lot of people reading your story will become really inspired. Here is this professional woman, who left Haiti when she was about nine, and who returns to create a travel tour firm built around it.
Well, I feel it’s simply my duty as a Haitian person educated in the United States to no longer be a bystander but to actually be proactive in finding a way to do something to advance Haiti and benefit Haitians, specifically the youth. During our last tour this past January, we had a “Real Talk” forum at a school with some 9th grade students on our volunteer Project Day. We were supposed to tell them about our careers and answer any questions that they had. One young lady stood up and asked “How do you keep going. How do you maintain hope?” Her question shook us, because no child should have to ask that. Hope shouldn’t be a concern at fourteen years old. So, when I think about what I’m doing, it’s not worthy of praise. Those kids sitting in the classrooms trying to learn despite their circumstances is an inspiration. The machann waking up at 5 a.m to set up her stand to sell her merchandise so she can send her kids to school is an inspiration.
If you were to give readers advice about establishing their own business, what would you tell them?
Make sure you are passionate about your venture. You are your biggest cheerleader. Have a good team and people who believe in you and what you are doing. Be prepared to financially invest in your business. Find a successful entrepreneur whose experience and knowledge can help you avoid mistakes; maybe that person can be your mentor. Prepare for disappointments, but never let it deter you.
Now, I know you have a Management certificate from Cornell, and a Bachelor’s and Masters degree. Out of all the things you learned in college, which have proven to be the most helpful in terms of taking you to the next level, business-wise?
I think what college prepares all of us for is the ability to discern information, being able to meet deadlines, and the ability to analyze and to be a thinker. College taught me how to function in a group. It also gave me the opportunity to interact and work together with different people which is beneficial in the business world. While I don’t think there’s anything specific in relation to my course work, I do believe that those fundamental skills have helped me on the business level.
Out of all the sites and places on the My Haiti Travels itinerary, which drew the most oohs and ahhs from your tourist-clients?
I think it’s different for everyone. I had one client who was amazed that the school we volunteered at had a wheelchair ramp. Another could not believe we were at a restaurant smoking hookah. I think others are always amazed at Arcadins Coast and the mountains behind mountains everywhere you turn.
Where do you hope to take your venture?
That’s a good question. We just finished a hugely successful 2nd Annual ImpactWeek tour during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. With that behind us, we’re launching our first annual Memorial Day Weekend tour called Jacmel Getaway on May 22 – May 26. We’re also constantly visiting and reviewing establishments in Haiti for our “mango reviews” to help people choose where to go when visiting Haiti. We’re also building our Travel Stories Blog. We remain committed to showing the authenticity of Haiti, supporting local businesses and giving back directly to the Haitian youth.
Thank you for chatting with me again. Always a pleasure
A pleasure indeed.