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Hotels with heart


Travellers tend to deplore the opening of big multi-national chain hotels in the Caribbean, but the opening of a new Marriott hotel in the Haitian capital Port au Prince in March could not have received a warmer welcome.

Marriott itself has broken some of its own rules in Haiti- visitors here find a different kind of hotel that has pulled out all the stops to become an ethical, sustainable model geared at rebuilding Haiti’s battered economy.

Plans began four years ago when Marriott International reached out to the Clinton Foundation to propose a new hotel to help Haiti rebuild its tourism industry after the devastating 2010 earthquake. Marriott’s interest in investing in Haiti was inspired in large part by the thousands of Haitian associates who, after the earthquake, urged the company to “do what it does best” and open a hotel to spur economic activity through travel and bring hope back to Haiti. Digicel Telecommunications Group agreed to invest US$45 million to build the 175-room, 5 –suite hotel.

In addition to creating 200 jobs for Haitians, the hotel incorporates Haitian art and artisan products into the hotel’s design and integrates green technologies such as solar to reduce the hotel’s environmental footprint. The Clinton Foundation also worked closely with Marriott and Digicel to identify and contract Haitian entrepreneurs, small businesses and agricultural cooperatives that could provide goods and services to the hotel.

The hotel is staffed by members of the Haitian diaspora who were working in Marriotts all over the world as well as local people from some of the country’s most disadvanted communities.

I visited in April to find that behind the glossy Marriott exterior lies an unusual take on the global brand.

You won’t find a Starbucks here but a Reba coffee shop. ‘Reba is Haiti’s national coffee, and a socially responsible business that is investing in agricultural and financial training for small and independent farmers’. says marketing manager Stephanie Gibson, originally from the USA ‘The hotel is also the first in Haiti to source produce from a Kenscoff-based co-op of 5,500 farmers’

She shows me the rooms, each unmistakably Marriott but with a twist - featuring locally sourced art and fair-trade toiletries.

‘There are over 200 original artworks here’, says GM Peter Antinoph, ‘metalworks, papier mache masks and voodoo flags which reflect the vibrant art culture of Haiti’

‘The Marriott Port-au-Prince is unique in so many ways’ he says. ‘We focus on sustainable actions that will lift people from poverty, drive respect, and create jobs for the hotel and through local procurement, the community at large as well. Each action that we have taken to move closer to our goal has been uncomplicated and simple. We simply follow the Marriott ethic of taking care of our staff and our community. We have not reinvented the wheel.’

HR director Edwige Solages, herself a returning Haitian from Manhattan, tells me that she went into Haiti’s poorest areas to recruit people to work in the hotel in all areas of hospitality

‘Training was a through operation,’ she says, ‘Trainees did a12-week experience in Santo Domingo , and are now empowered in their roles and have proved to be some of the company’s best workers’. The new associates include Luccardo, who was recruited to work at the hotel’s front desk from the Nos Petits Frères et Soeurs orphanage.

‘Our staff are brilliant, wonderful, friendly, energetic, smiling, warm people. I cannot say enough good about them! ‘Says Peter Antinoph

The Marriott Port au Prince is located in the city’s business district, but is also an ideal base for tourists who are beginning to rediscover Haiti’s attractions, which include the famous Citadelle in Cap Haitien, (mooted as the Caribbean’s Machu Picchu, and a short internal flight away ) and the seaside resort of Jacmel with its waterfalls and beaches.

147 Avenue Jean Paul II, Turgeau, Port au Prince, HT6113, Haiti

How to get there: Located just 7 miles from the Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport (PAP)

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