By Alexander Britell
Caribbean Journal’s new Business of Haiti feature takes a look at Haiti’s economy — and the people who are working to move it into a new era.
While Haiti is working hard to rebrand its tourism sector, the country remains very much a frontier for hospitality investment. What Haiti needs are those bold enough to take the initial plunge into a still-mercurial market.
Investor Dr Jean Orelien, a Haitian-American healthcare executive, seems to be one of them, and has big plans for the “Club Azura” resort on the coast of Haiti’s Lake Azeui.
The company has secured the land, and is in the process of working on architectural planning, along with developing a financial model for the eventual securitization of the project. The goal is to have shares in the project registered in the United States as financial instruments — something that should remove some potential hang-ups about investing in the country. Orelien has also invested in a start-up transportation company.
The eventual aim is to build a mixed-use complex, with a resort along with residential and retail components.
The Club Azura plan exists because Haiti’s market, still largely untapped, has promise, he says.
“I see a lot of potential [in Haiti] — if you recall, the economy grew by 8 percent last year, and I’m expecting the economy to essentially grow in double digits over the next three years,” says Orelien, the CEO of health consulting firm Scimetrika. “And when you’re talking about double-digit growth in the economy, it’s going to attract people who have money to spend.”
Much of that money could come from Haiti’s large diaspora community, particularly in the United States, he says.
“I believe that there is a longing for Haiti in the hearts of every Haitian in the diaspora, or most of them,” he tells Business of Haiti. “You’re starting to see that, and I’m starting to see more Haitian-Americans going back to Haiti.”
The North Carolina-based doctor says those travelers are looking to replicate the vacations or trips they spent in the Haiti of their youth — an experience, he says, that can usually be recreated only in the Dominican Republic.
“They want to have the same kind of vacation they had with their families,” he says.
Building a hotel in Haiti, in an area with very little infrastructure, presents other challenges.
“We have to make it self sustaining, and essentially independent, he says.
But there are a number of other potential roadblocks in Haiti’s economy.
Haiti has significant issues with respect to property rights — something international organizations like the Inter-American Development Bank have been working to change.
“For any investor, you want certainty with respect to knowing that your rights as an owner will not be challenged,” Orelien says. “In Haiti, there is this issue of not knowing when to buy land, or whether or not you really own it. In Haiti, we have to make sure the ownership is right, and I think that’s the major concern in Haiti.”
What else can help Haiti’s investment climate? Business legislation, he says.
“In Haiti, you don’t have a structure like limited liability, so the ranges are too few there, and also with the judiciary,” he says. “If you have a legal dispute, you need to know that, as an investor, you can recover your asset.”
But Orelien is steadfast in his belief in the power of a market that, combined with the Dominican Republic, represents nearly 20 million people.
“That’s a pretty sizable market,” he says. “It’s an emerging market, and it’s a growing economy, and the most sizable in the entire Caribbean.”
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Photo Credit: The Caribbean Journal