American Airlines to Offer Daily, Direct Flights to Cap Haïtien

  • Posted on: 1 August 2014
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
News: 

American Airlines will become the first major carrier to offer daily, direct flights to Cap Haitian.  The combination of historic sites and beaches might prove a draw for both the Haitian Diaspora and those interested in visiting Haiti without having to transfer through Port-au-Prince. Growing the tourism industry in Haiti will take time - but having the option of flighting in through the north certainly helps.    

 

 

 

7/28/2014

BY JACQUELINE CHARLES

Miami Herald

JCHARLES@MIAMIHERALD.COM

 

After a modified 757 transporting then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in October 2012 became the first large aircraft to touch down on its runway in decades, Cap-Haïtien will soon welcome similarly sized jets at its newly expanded and transformed international airport.  American Airlines began selling tickets on Sunday for daily nonstop service from Miami, starting Oct. 2, making it the first major airline to add Haiti’s second largest city to one of its routes.  “This is a big deal,” said Art Torno, American’s senior vice president of its operations in Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America. “That area of the country has about 35 percent of the population, and has always been a desirable place for us.”  Torno estimates that between 30 and 35 percent of American’s Haiti-bound passengers traveling from JFK in New York, Miami International and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airports currently head north after landing at Toussaint L’Overture International Airport in Port-au-Prince.  Expanding operations outside of the Haitian capital, he said, is not just good for business, it also benefits Haiti’s tourism, currently undergoing an overhaul. “From a location standpoint, it’s just absolutely perfect to serve that part of the population,” Torno said of the area, which includes Royal Caribbean’s private beach in Labadee and a post-earthquake $300 million U.S.-backed industrial park. “There is a large drive to develop infrastructure there. It’s important for the country; having spent so much time in Port-au-Prince this is another opportunity for economic development in the country, and that will take some pressure off the capital.”

 

Clinton and her husband, former President and U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton, visited the area in October 2012, landing within minutes of each other on a newly asphalted 7,500-foot runway, to attend the industrial park’s opening. Their arrival was as much about promoting economic development for the area, as it was about tourism.  “This is an important step toward Haiti’s continued economic growth,” the former president, who had long pushed for a modern airport in the region, told the Miami Herald. “Investors will now be able to easily access industrial parks and a growing number of small businesses in and around Cap-Haïtien, and tourists will be able to visit important World Heritage sites.”  Maryse Pénette Kedar, a former tourism secretary of state who is president of Royal Caribbean’s Haitian subsidiary, also sees American’s expansion as “a major development.”  “This is great news for the northern region, for the people, the diaspora and the business community,” she said. “It is a gate opener and I am happy this is finally happening.”  American Airline’s entry into northern Haiti and the airport’s modernization comes as Haiti pushes to change its tarnished tourism image. Marketing the volatile country as a destination of choice for travelers has been a key focus of President Michel Martelly’s administration. For instance on Sunday, the singer-turned-president hosted the country’s second carnival — the Carnival of Flowers — this year, in the Champ de Mars in Port-au-Prince.

 

While critics say the impoverished nation, which can’t pay its judges and civil servants, shouldn’t be wasting its meager resources on partying, Martelly said the festivities are a chance to sell a better image of Haiti and attract tourists.  So, too, is the airport in Cap-Haïtien, said Haiti’s Tourism Minister Stephanie Balmir Villedrouin.  The airport, she said, will serve as an international gateway to not only remote pockets of cascading waterfalls and pristine beaches, but also to the monuments telling the story of Haiti’s birth.  “The historical town of Cap-Haïtien, the Citadelle, the biggest fortress of the Americas, and the Palais Sans-Souci, will be less than two hours away from the United States,” said Villedrouin, who this week is set to sign another tourism-related project for the north with Carnival Cruise Lines. “This airport will welcome thousands of visitors looking for a history experience.”  Preparing the airport to handle increased flights, international security protocols and night time landings and takeoffs has itself been an international effort. While financing has come from Venezuela, the U.S. government has provided some security equipment through its law enforcement program, and technical help on security standards from the Transportation Security Administration. American Airlines, which was approached by the Haitian government to fly to Cap-Haïtien, also is stepping in with temporary terminals and other technical help, Torno said.  “We were also asked to partner with the government in terms of planning and execution of the terminal,” Torno said. “It really has come along very nicely.”

 

The airport’s modernization and expansion almost never happened. While work on its perimeter fence started in 2008, former President René Préval landed in hot water in January 2010 with donors for taking out a $33 million loan from the Venezuela Economic and Social Development Bank to modernize the airport, and fund power plants in Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haïtien and Gonaives. In exchange for debt relief from donors, Haiti had agreed to not seek unapproved borrowing.  Nearly five years after Haiti’s tragic Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, the issue is now a moot point as tourism becomes a key focus of the country’s reconstruction. Hundreds of hotel rooms have been added in the capital, and internationally recognized hotel brands are either operating or being built. The Toussaint L’Overture International Airport, severely damaged in the quake, has undergone a facelift and more airport modernization is in the works around the country.  The Cap Haïtien airport is now called the Hugo Chávez International Airport, after Haiti’s government last year announced the name change, citing the late Venezuelan leader’s support. Still, making Haiti a tourism destination will take time.

 

Tourism arrivals were up nearly 18 percent last year, but hoteliers in the capital still complain of empty hotel rooms even as rates drastically drop. Equally disconcerting for Haiti travelers are airline-ticket prices.  “Sometimes, it’s cheaper to take a flight from New York to Paris than from Miami to Port-au-Prince,” said Nicola Bussenius, owner of the 42-room Mont Joli hotel in Cap-Haïtien. “American Airlines coming will give the place the extra credibility. But they can’t come in selling $500 and $600 tickets.”  Bussenius said he would like to see American Airlines drop ticket prices to help spur tourism, but ticket prices shouldn’t be so low that they put smaller carriers that have long operated flights to South Florida, Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic out of business. Torno said pricing is based on market pressures. “Pricing in every market is dictated by the local conditions,” he said. “When you take a look at the geography, there are some markets that are priced differently in a similar geographic zone due to factors.” Ticket prices started at $193 per person for a one way economy seat, or $583 for business class.

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The Miami Herald
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
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Amid its woes, Haiti offers a striking rugged beauty that is obvious to adventure travelers — rolling hills, steep mountains and rocky terrain that make backpacking or mountain biking just as good a heart pumper here as in any mountainous Caribbean island. But the country also offers a quality that’s often overlooked and even dismissed: a slice of paradise. This was certainly the offering during a recent weekend jaunt to northern Haiti where I joined a group of curiosity seekers on a boat excursion around the country’s picturesque coast. The area is better known to Royal Caribbean cruise passengers and well-heeled yachting enthusiasts than to your average visitor.Haiti’s second-largest city, Cap-Haïtien, I discovered, is more than just a historical find.
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Our day began with a 30-minute bus ride from our hotel, the Mont Joli, at the top of a hill overlooking the historic city, past streets with their faded grandeur, up another mountain, past a village that not even this native realized existed. (When you’re Haitian, rarely do you come here as a tourist. Vacation usually means visiting family in a far-flung rural village and going home.) We finally arrived at Labadie beach, driving around the security fence that separates the locals from the weekly cruise passengers who lounge on the private stretch of Labadee that Miami-based Royal Caribbean leases from the Haitian government. Our tour guide, Mike Trimble of Labadee Charters, guided us aboard his 26-foot fishing boat. Born in Haiti, Trimble is an American who grew up here. His dad, Joel, a pastor, is well-known to Haitians here and abroad for his TV show, La Bonne Nouvelle.
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Mike launched his excursions with his business partner, Maxim Laroche, in February. Since then, the business has expanded from fishing excursions for cruise passengers to include private tours for the few tourists who do trickle in. Mike revved up the boat and took us out five miles into the Atlantic around Labadie bay. About 30 minutes later, we arrived at Amiga Island or as the natives call it, Ile Ara, a small uninhabited island that legend says was a rendezvous point for Christopher Columbus and a local lover. Awed by the trees, shallow green water and white sand encircling the entire island, my traveling companions wasted no time changing into their swimming trunks and jumping in. The water, which is great for snorkeling, was warm and amazingly not too salty.
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Lounging around in the ocean makes you hungry. Lunch was a seafood affair, courtesy of local fishermen who came up to us in their wooden canoes with freshly caught fish, lobster and octopus that cost between $5 and $10 a person. Mike’s mate Pierre Jean-Baptiste, who brought his own special sauce that he prepared the night before, started a fire on the beach and grilled the seafood, using a variety of local peppers. With our stomachs filled, we climbed back aboard the boat and continued our tour, which soon brought us to Cadras Beach. The stunning white-sand beach has a natural cove where fresh and salt water meet. From the moment you step into the waist-high turquoise water, the scenery and calmness grab you. You feel like you’re in a gigantic swimming pool until you see the lush tree-lined landscape dotted with private homes accessible only by boat and owned mostly by wealthy Haitians and some French ex-pats.
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As we enjoyed the tranquility, Mike pointed out where British airline mogul Richard Branson stayed during a 2012 visit. Some owners, he said, rent out their bungalows to vacationers seeking to expand their experience beyond his four-hour boat excursions. I didn’t think much could top Ile Ara, but the detour to Cadras really made the trip as we lounged in the water drinking Prestige beer, the local brew, and sipping coconut water out of the shell, freshly plucked from a tree. Dining options in Cap-Haïtien are limited beyond the hotels. However, no visit is complete without a trip to Lakay restaurant, the “It” place in the city, situated along the oceanfront boulevard in the Carenage neighborhood. An open-air restaurant, Lakay offers large portions of authentic Haitian dishes like Creole conch and fried goat as well as hamburgers and pizzas. Started in 1999 by Philippe “Fito” Zephir and his wife Anne-Claude, Lakay has its share of high-profile clientele. The day before our visit, Haitian President Michel Martelly lunched there, his visit shutting down the boulevard. Cyril Bourlon de Rouvre, a French politician and sugar refineries heir, has been a frequent guest. In fact, Zephir used to keep a special stock of Veuve Clicquot champagne just for him.
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While you shouldn’t count on getting Veuve Clicquot, you can count on sipping champagne in a laid-back ambience with cultural performances on some evenings. There is also a DJ whose repertoire of konpa, reggae and American pop mixes had us dancing through the night. For years, Cap-Haïtien was mostly cut off from the world, accessible only to those willing to fly in on daily charter service from South Florida, or a smaller aircraft from Port-au-Prince. But a newly renovated international airport with a 7,500-foot runway now allows for large commercial jet service. American Airlines last month became the first U.S.-based carrier to land here, and now operates daily nonstop service from Miami.
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This is the city where Haiti as a nation was born. Visitors should climb either on foot or by horseback to the Citadelle Laferrière, about 45 minutes away in the town of Milot. A massive mountaintop stone fortress that overlooks the city, the Citadelle was built by newly freed Haitians to deter the French. In 2012, while vacationing with my mom, I visited the fortress on horseback. That day, Michaëlle Jean, former general governor and current UNESCO special envoy for Haiti, was touring the site. Jean has been a leading promoter of protecting historical sites like the Citadelle and the Palais San Souci, the royal residence of Henri Christophe, that is located just below the fortress.
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Jean was treated to a local dance performanc and a meal of artichoke and duck with guava, cooked by Jules Joseph, chef at Le Trois Decks in Fermathe in the hills of Port-au-Prince. Another one of my favorite eating spots, the restaurant is owned by Jean-Lionel Pressoir, whose company Tour Haiti arranged Jean’s visit. In addition to Tour Haiti, another company that offers tour packages is Agence Citadelle. Trimble said he too is working on a three-day, two-night package that will include his boat excursions and visits to the Citadelle and San-Souci Palace. Once a leader in Caribbean tourism, Haiti is only now trying to re-enter the scene. Places still aren’t equipped to deal with individual travelers. To get a full experience, it is best to go with a tour company that can arrange everything from hotel stays to tours to a Vodou drumming and ceremony.
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Unlike Port-au-Prince, which offers a few name-brand hotels and South Beach-type restaurants, Cap-Haïtien remains in an organic stage. The city has fewer than 1,000 standard hotel rooms. One of the newer hotels is Habitation Jouissant, a 13-room boutique hotel and a favorite of the country’s president. There is a telescope in every room and on the vine-shaded veranda, enticing guests to take a visual tour of the city. The furnishings are modern and reminiscent of South Beach, which isn’t an accident. Owner Fred Beliard bought an entire floor of South Beach’s Palms hotel before it was renovated by its new owner and had everything shipped to Haiti, right down to the bathroom fixtures. Like others here, he’s excited about the new direct flights from Miami and tourism opportunities. As we all should be.
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GOING TO CAP-HAÏTIEN
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Getting there: American Airlines (www.aa.com) flies nonstop from Miami, a 2-hour trip, with roundtrip airfare starting around $288. Tortug’Air, (www.tortugair.com), a Haitian airline, also operates flights from Fort Lauderdale that start at $438.50 roundtrip and IBC Air, (http://flyibcair.com/) runs daily charter service from Fort Lauderdale and Miami, starting at $596 roundtrip.
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WHERE TO STAY
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Hotel reservations can now be booked online for several local hotels and at Hotwire.com. The city is walkable but transportation is required to get to the beach or the historical sites.
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Habitation Jouissant: 202 Route Habitation Jouissant Cap-Haïtien; 011-509-3124-2400/ 305-635-0938, ext. 3004; www.habitationjouissant.com. The 13-room boutique hotel is close to Place d’Armes and Cap-Haïtien Cathedral. Rooms have complimentary Wi-Fi and a telescope to see the city, refrigerators, coffee/tea makers and hair dryers. The hotel has a restaurant, indoor bar/outdoor lounging area, small pool. Rooms start at $144 with breakfast and taxes included.
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Hotel Mont Joli: Rue 29b, Cap-Haïtien, 011-509-2943-1110 / 011-509-2260-5847. http://hotelmontjoli.net. Spacious rooms offering flat-screen TV. Complimentary wireless in the lobby. Restaurant and bar, large pool. Rooms start at $120 with breakfast included.
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Auberge du Picolet: 90 Boulevard Carenage, Cap-Haïtien; 011-509-3438-6357 / 011-509-2810-1111; https://www.facebook.com/AubergeduPicolet. The hotel offers 19 rooms on the oceanfront, not far from Lakay restaurant and other nightlife. Rooms start at $130 with breakfast.
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Hôtel du Roi Christophe: Rue 24B, Cap-Haïtien ; 011-509-3687-8915 / 011-509-3709-0556; http://hotelroichristophe.com. One of the city’s older hotels, it features 37 rooms and is in the center of town. Wireless internet is available in the lobby and in some rooms. Both the courtyard and exterior are lush with trees. There is a pool, outdoor bar, billiards table. Rooms start at $102 with continental breakfast.
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Cormier Plage Resort: Route de Labadie Bande du nord, Cormier; 011-509-3702-0210. http://www.cormierhaiti.com/. Located on a private beach, it is also close to Labadie Beach. The hotel offers shuttle service to town, complimentary wireless Internet access in guestrooms, air conditioning, babysitting services, water sports, massages and other sports. Rooms start at $105.
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WHERE TO EAT
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Lakay: Located along the Boulevard du Carenage on the city’s main oceanfront strip, the restaurant offers authentic Haitian dishes, natural juices and alcohol. DJ and cultural performances. 011-509-2942-7225. http://lakayhaiti.com/. Entrees and sandwiches from $7 - $29.
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WHAT TO DO
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While historic sites like the Citadelle Laferrière and Palais San Souci are accessible on your own, the best way to get the full experience is through a tour company that can also put together a package that includes a traditional Vodou ceremony and other visits. Here are a few:
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Agence Citadelle: www.agencecitadelle.com or info@agencecitadelle.com.
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Belle Vue Tours: bvtourshaiti.com or travel@bvtourshaiti.com or 867-677-1657.
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Labadee Charters: http://www.labadeecharters.com/. Boat excursions of three to four hours around Labadie Bay off the coast of Cap-Haïtien. Trips are $50 a person for a minimum of six persons, includes drinks but not food. (Groups of 10 or more can get a bigger discount while the cost runs higher for smaller groups). info@labadeecharters.com or 011-509-3701-9559.
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Tour Haiti: www.facebook.com/TourHaiti or email info@tourhaiti.net or 011-509-2812-2223 or 011-509-2813-2223.
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Voyages Lumière: www.voyageslumiere.com or email voyageslumierehaiti@gmail.com; 011-509-4805-8289 or 011-509-3607-1321
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Voyages Plus Cap Haitien: vpcap1@gmail.com or agencevpcap@yahoo.fr.
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Read more here:
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http://www.miamiherald.com/living/travel/caribbean-travel/article3581751...

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