By Rachel Belt
PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti (HCNN) -- Haiti attracted 20% more tourists last year, following targeted efforts by the Haitian government to have tourism central to its development and job creation strategy as the Caribbean country's leadership struggles to lift millions out of poverty.
According to figures released by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), the number of tourists who visited Haiti in 2013 grew to reach 420,000, representing a 20.2% increase, compared to previous figures.
Minister of Tourism, Stephanie Villedrouin
Haiti's tourism minister, Stephanie Villedrouin, explained that the government and other relevant operators are working together to make of Haiti a top international tourist destination by setting up the necessary infrastructure and capacity likely to attract tourists from around the world.
"We are doing our best to develop Haiti as a major tourist destination with emphasis on the country’s natural beauty, great beaches, but also our very rich culture and history," Villedrouin told HCNN on Wednesday.
"We are building new airports, offering incentives for the construction of more quality hotels, and we are actively training hospitality workers to offer the best we can to our visitors," she said.
On top of the 420,000 visitors, more than 660,000 cruise ship passengers stop for a day on the northern seaside tourist facility in Labadie.
Efforts are also underway to develop, on the southern island of Ile-A-Vache, an ambitious tourism project that will cost several hundred million dollars.
The Haitian government doubled the tourism budget in 2013, which is funding a number of initiatives to make Haiti more tourist friendly, including a taxi service from the airport and tourist police, who take English classes and can be seen outside popular restaurants and beaches around the country.
This announcement comes in the same week as an announcement by Hilton to build Hilton Garden Inn nearby the airport in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.
Hilton will be joining the ranks of other large hotel chains which have opened since the devastating earthquake in 2010 or plan to open in Haiti this year including Marriott, the Best Western, El Rancho and the Oasis hotel, operated by Occidental.
Although numbers on job creation from the initiatives are unclear, the government has developed a number of hospitality training schools to offer new and sustainable job opportunities to the Haitian youth.