By Jean H Charles
On the ominous day of 12/12/12 that may never arrive again until the next millennium and there again the number 12 is gone forever (there are only 12 months in the year), the Royal Oasis hotel was inaugurated in Petionville, Haiti, as a five-star hospitality facility. Five-star hotels abound all over the Caribbean, from A for Antigua with the St James Club and Villas to T like tiny Turks and Caicos with 19 five-star hotels on its roster. Haiti is way behind in offering to the businessman and to the tourists the facility that the travel connoisseurs are accustomed to.
Jean Hervé Charles LLB, MSW, JD, former Vice-Dean of Students at City College of the City University of New York, is now responsible for policy and public relations for the political platform in power in Haiti, Répons Peyisan. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol
I arrived late to the inauguration, I had a dinner engagement with the congregation of the Fraternity Notre Dame, which was receiving some benefactors to meet and greet the Prior, Mother Marie Marthe, who was visiting Haiti from Chicago. I have been the facilitator in introducing that organization to Haiti. Led by Bishop Jean Marie Kozick, the priests and the nuns of Fraternity Notre Dame, still in their old fashion religious garments, are as modern as the next door teenager. They are not afraid to attend the latest US Open while ready to go and care for the lowly where most other religious institutions will hesitate to venture in.
The Royal Oasis from the outside has a deceiving outlook, its back gives way to the Pan American Boulevard that links Port au Prince to the bucolic mountain village of Petionville. Cross the gate and enter into a magic, exotic and tropical scene that seems like a fairy tale.
Indeed it is a fairy tale. It all started in the 1930s, when two brothers Marcel and Antoine Audain bought a large piece of land in the then almost wooded area above the capital city of Port au Prince. They build themselves a week-end villa that was sold later in the 1940s to Frederick Madsen a Danish immigrant to Haiti. The Madsen family leased the land and the home to the Balthazars who opened the Picardie restaurant that became the trendy place for the celebrities of the world to have dinner while visiting Haiti from their yachts.
The structure of the Picardie restaurant constitutes the main dining room for the Oasis hotel. It has five surrounding restaurants and all around the main building wrap you around as a loving hand that makes you feel like home.
The Royal Oasis has three conference centres, a bank, several big name stores, 127 bedrooms ranging in price from $190 for a standard room per night to $308 for a junior suite and $342 for a full suite. One must add an additional 10% tax.
Haiti, which is already open for business, is now open for tourists. It has been a long time since a covert embargo was imposed upon Haiti. It was under the Reagan administration, when mistakenly or maliciously the name of Haiti and Haitians was linked to the HIV stigma.
Speaking recently with a host of wholesale travel agents, the embargo imposed upon Haiti has not been lifted yet. President Bill Clinton, who was instrumental in helping the Haitian entrepreneurs behind the financing of the Oasis hotel will have to go back to the drawing board in urging President Barack Obama to lift the embargo against Haiti so the insurance companies can give the go ahead to the travel agents for pouring in tourists by the thousand into Haiti.
The magnificent Oasis hotel is a true Haitian experience that started in 2006 with Mr Jerry Tardieu, who pulled in a host of Haitian businessmen in Haiti and in the Diaspora to combine their resources to build the first, first class hotel in the nation. At a cost of $38 million, it is 95% locally owned but it is run by Occidental Hotel and Resorts.
It is true there was the Montana, a boutique hotel with its particular charm that made it a regular for the frequent visitor to Haiti. The Royal Oasis is on a grand scale, a fully modern facility that makes the visitor confident there will be no inconvenience or surprise during his stay at the hotel and in Haiti.
Then came the earthquake of January 12, 2010, that flattened the Montana completely and almost destroyed the dream of the Oasis. The Bush and Clinton Fund for Haiti came to the rescue to help the entrepreneurs to regain confidence and finish the hotel that was earthquake-proof at the outset. As such, the earthquake did not put a dent in the structure.
On the very day of the inauguration, the hotel was spic and span, ready to serve the hundreds of businessmen and tourist friends of the particular taste of Haiti. It is Caribbean but it has an arriere gout of French Provence, a bit of African as well as Tainos underpinning.
Visit one of the rooms of the hotel you will be transported into a magical land, where Haitian art combined with the efficiency of modern touch makes you feel you should live there forever. I took time to sit on a small chair made of bamboo in the bathroom. (Make sure you visit the Iron Market to bring one home.) I admired the closet, which is also made with bamboo, and the myriad of small details that provide you with a residence away from home, a moment to cherish, dream about and wanting to come back again and again.
President Michel Martelly, along with his Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, accompanied by the ebullient Minister of Tourism Stephanie Villedrouin, were as proud godparents on hand to bid the newborn Godspeed. The Papal Nuncio, in full dress regalia, brought God’s benediction to the new venture. To witness the ceremony, the beautiful people of Port au Prince and Petionville in their best attire mingled and danced in all the different gardens of the hotel to celebrate this renaissance of Haiti, which is now open for tourists.
I asked the young assistant manager whether they were confident for the future, and he told me they were booked way through the year with businessmen seeking opportunities in the new Haiti, where new construction abounds after the earthquake. In his address at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, President Martelly, always witty and funny, told his prime minister he wants to see a dozen more five-star hotels in the nation before he gets fired!
The investors of the world need to hurry up, Haiti has so much to offer in terms of sight, smell and taste that ten more five star hotels will not suffice to satisfy repeat visitors as soon as they get used to the legendary hospitality of Haiti and its people.
My glass is raised for the Royal Oasis hotel! May it lead the way to the renaissance of the Haiti tourist industry!
Photos: Wesly Deguerre, Jerry Tardieu