Taking Eco and Sustainble Tourism to the Next Level – Jacmel, Haiti

There currently are over 5,000 NGOs in Haiti employing thousands more internationals working in conditions more strenuous than would be in their respective homelands. Port au Prince is a city originally built to support roughly 600,000 people, and is now densely overpopulated (2.143 million in 2010 counting many NGO internationals) in the wake of 2010’s devastating earthquake. Strained by Haiti’s crushing industrial hub, Haitians, international residents and tourists are shifting their attention to the glorious mountainous horizons, paradise of its coasts and valleys, in short, the Haiti missing from international news. Within the last few years the Cayes-Jacmel area of Haiti has received a growth of media and financial attention as a development area that is easily accessible by way of Port au Prince.

More and more Haitians and internationals looking to get away for the weekend are heading to Jacmel, a city in the Sud-Est that is widely regarded as the country’s cultural capitol. The attention has revealed the charming strengths of the area, and in due course its needs. If Jacmel is to become a regular, profitable destination there are several aspects that need addressing, not the least of which is a resort fit to receive domestic and intercontinental travellers.

ReGenAll Resort and Retreat Center is a project dedicated to providing an environmentally conservative,socially responsible, culturally sensitive option for tourists who are seeking a special experyans nan Ayiti. The model is guided by the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC).In response to broader global trends that exhibit people travelling abroad in search of eco-friendly and sustainable models as destinations, the ReGen4All team aims to employ several environmentally Green technologies in their construction to contribute toward mitigating global issues concerning energy and global warming. The ReGen4All team has recognized the opportunity to be responsible impact investors in their tourism venture, and have generated a model that transfers responsibility to their consumers. In effect each visitor transforms part of every dollar spent on their vacation into an investment in the area and community for positive change.

The design uses individual cabanas decorated in local lataniere roof style, providing two sleeping units per building. Mark Rylander, architect for the project, is a former director at William McDonough + Partners and plans to export their renowned principles of building with respect for the unique site specificity. The highly accomplished and enthusiastic ReGen4All team’s philosophy is being as culturally and ecologically sensitive to the area as possible. By cultivating the local architectural style, patrons have opportunities to stay in perfected versions of the Ti Kay (Creole for “little house”) in a location just outside of Jacmel. Housing guests in the uniquely beautiful Haitian ti kay is integral to imbuing the façade of cultural immersion. While so many developers do everything in their power to eliminate the specificity of the place they are investing in, ReGen4All glorifies it.

The current Western perception of staying in a ti kay is equivalent to “camping” or “roughing it,” but by outfitting a ti kay with amenities expected of a modern hotel room, success can be on financial level, the environmentally conservative level by sourcing local materials and within the social spectrum by maintaining the aesthetic integrity of the area. The values of remaining site specific in style will be imbued in the operation of the hotel, where the RGA team expects to incentivize and therefore attract Haitian ownership, as well as hire local staff.

Providing a good number of secure, relatively well-paying occupations is an invaluable position to hold within the area’s establishments, which are generally smaller enterprises. By employing a staff that is 90% local, the project represents growth for the area, and makes the resort more sensitive and sustainable. Cayes-Jacmel is home to a concentrated wealth of artisans and artists, some of whose work is already sold internationally. Commissions for decoration exposes visitors to this aspect of the Haitian spirit – a country with more registered artists per capita than any other – and establishes business relationships, which will help to rebrand Haiti’s Port-au-Prince dominated image.

According to team member Alicia Marseille, MBA: “The resort is going to use solar power to provide energy, an environmental septic system approved by the National Science Foundation, solar hot water heaters, and possibly some wind power.  There will be composting, and a small garden from which we use for the resort.  There is also a carbon reduction program.”

The CO2 reduction model is especially apt for a deforested Haiti, as it involves the redirecting of funds to local farmers who are encouraged to plant trees as well as their seasonal crops. A small added tax placed on the room charge is given directly to the farmers. RGA hopes to recruit neighboring hotels to employ the same policy, building a future that links larger businesses directly to the small and medium sized agricultural trade. Pairing this approach to world issues with the local needs of provincial Haitians can really become a persuasive model for potential sites, in Haiti or elsewhere, should the resort prove successful. Ms. Marseille envisions that the model could do well in Northern Haiti, especially in a place like Jeremie where her husband is from.

ReGen4All hopes that reaching further into the community will bear good consequences, and have included a “community institute” in their model. The impact is simple in many respects; if the resort is to thrive, the area’s constituents must also. Disparity is not the way, and rather than money being the answer, ReGen4All believes in education as the key to long-term success. The consumer is equivocated to a funder of change, which meets international trends associated with voluntourism and eco-tourism. Discounted rates will be given to visitors who pledge to teach a workshop based on their profession (or passion). Projects such as this may represent the new wave of impact investing, as a hybrid of social entrepreneurship that is profit driven.

Sensitivity to the particularities of Haitian culture is paramount to success in the near and long-term. When asked how the community institute will engage the population Ms. Marseille reveals that it will: “feature workshops for local community members on clean technology, sustainable and natural building techniques, community gardening, and many more.  The interesting thing about the project is the technique that we are building the resort with is what we will be teaching at the institute.  This helps to level the field in tourism and lessen the “us” versus “them” factor that often arises in the tourism sector.”

The business’s orientation is refreshing: people’s well being. Lastly, and most significantly for the community, will be the sustainable housing microfinance program. Addressing the housing crisis in Haiti has seen billions of dollars funneled into a cloud that floats above Haiti’s people. Symbolically and realistically this cloud stagnates growth as funds are distributed often in a handout style, and their impact evaporates. By teaching the Haitians how to build their own homes, and giving loans to qualifying applicants there is accountability as well as knowledge transferred. The hotel’s investment is spread horizontally through education rather than in the “top-down” fashion recently applied in Haiti. It’s an opportunity to develop a new housing model, one focused on giving a hand-up as opposed to a handout.

Funding for the project will be based on a variety of angel investments and a large push made through crowd-sourcing websites such as Kickstarter. The ReGenAll campaign will be kicking off in the first week of September.

See http://regen4all.com/ for more information.