CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti- If you can afford 40 USD a night for a hotel room, then I invite you to come to Haiti. This is truly an great country for traveling, though the hotel costs are far beyond the purse strings of the average traveler.
There seems to be very little competition for hotels in Haiti, as there seems to be very few people traveling here. Many hotels have seemingly already gone out of business a decade ago, the few that remain are either for the luxury classes or are decrepit, ill kept love hotels.
The USA business model in this circumstance would decree that with such a lack of demand the price should be lowered to out play the competition, but this is not the Haitian model:
[adsense]Haiti hotels seem keen to gamble on taking all that they can get when they can get it. Haiti hotels live for today. Apparently, it seems to be good business in Haiti to face a drop in tourism with heighten hotel prices, rather than the converse. Apparently, the idea behind this seems to be that if you have a third of the clientele that you once had, you should charge each person three times the former price to break even.
I walked out of many hotels in Haiti. My quick retreats where sparked not only in disgust for the rough conditions of the hotels, but for the price they were trying to charge me. I would gladly pay $5 – $10 to stay in these hotels, as this is their international value, but $40 is absurd. In over 10 years of travel, only two times had I ever paid more for accommodation — and both of these times was while driving back across the USA last summer with my family.
$40 a night for a bottom of the barrel hotel room — in a country where a meal is $2, a bus ride $1 per seat hour, and transport in the back of a pickup truck costs 50 cents — left my mouth agape. Because of the cost of hotels, Haiti is not a cheap country for travel.
I arrived in Cap-Haitien fresh from the Dominican Republic. The $12 a night that I was paying in Sosua for a really comfortable, clean apartment in a hotel seemed pricey to me, but I had no idea what I was in for in Haiti. The most recent version of the guidebook had budget hotels in this city peg at around $12 to $15 a night. Not a good price, though not enough to knock me off the scent.
What I quickly found was that these prices were doubled and tripled since the earthquake in Port au Prince. And the hotels were not willing to budge on the price.
“It is amazing what they will try to charge you for a hotel room there,” my friend Andy warned me before traveling to Haiti, “they think that you have an endless supply of money and can pay any price.”
I have been in tight spots with expensive hotels before, and I have always managed to find a way to talk the price down. Here in Haiti, the hotel receptionists were as brick walls. I walked out of two hotels two times each in Cap-Haitien, before journeying on to a third.
The first hotel was an honest shit hole, they wanted $40 a night for one of the worst rooms I have yet seen in my travels. I offered $20 a night — the guidebook had them pegged at $12, a guy in the street told me the price was actually $10.
“That price would not be good for me,” the young man behind the reception counter spoke.
I walked out, expecting to be stopped at the door.
My expectation was unrequited.
I went to another hotel that once had $15 a night rooms, they now want $56. This was also one of the worst hotels that I have ever walked into in the 46 countries that I have traveled to. I offered $20, $25, even $35. No, the price was $56 to sleep in a vacant slum — one that charged four times less just a couple years before.
Both hotels would not budge. I offered lower prices and walk out of them two times each. The receptionists just watched me go. It was evident that they would rather take no money than give me a lower price — even though the amounts that I was offering were truly extortionate. The hotels knew that I would have to stay somewhere, and they hedged their bets that I would give in and pay four times the amount of an acceptable price at their hotel.
I went to a third hotel, the price was $40. I fought hard — real hard. In that moment, I figured that if I was going to spend $40 to sleep in squalor, that I would rather pay twice as much to stay in the luxury tourist hotel down the road. There was a sense of logic value at work, and I had finally found my limit: I would rather pay a higher price, live in luxury, and get my money’s worth than be extorted.
I fought over the price with this hotel — it was the last “budget” place in town. I argued. I was denied. I then packed up whatever vagabond pride I could muster, and turned to walk out the door to the tourist hotel.
But just as my foot touched the sidewalk the young guy behind the counter called me back in. The Universal Hotel in Cap-Haitien agreed to take me in at a rate of $60 for two nights — 30 USD a night.
A thriving, lasting tourist industry rarely begins with five star hotels and resorts but, rather, a thriving tourist industry is built on the back of $5 a night hostels. First, the travelers with small budgets will come, then a place becomes trendy and the tourists with backpacks — who happily pay twice as much as their budget stricken fore bearers — follow, and then, on the back of these pseudo adventurers, the middle aged tourists with money will come and a location on the globe will prosper.
The travelers and backpackers will tell their parents about their travels, show them photos, and plant a little seed in their minds: they could take their vacation THERE too. And they do, as a one time backpacker hub is transformed into a tourist carnival.
It has happened like this all over the world.
You must sometimes use a small minnow to catch a big fish. The budget hotels in Haiti are trying to fish with trophy sized bass as the bait on the ends of their lines — and few fish are biting.
This idea on tourism perhaps sounds fantastical, but if you look at some of the thriving tourist industries in the world today — the ones that have lasted, not the here today, gone tomorrow resorts — you will find that many of them were the backpacker bases of yesterday. In the 60’s and 70’s young travelers with little money blazed trails through Southeast Asia, Goa, Nepal, Mexico, Central and South America, Morocco. These places began there tourist as gathering points for young travelers and eventually grew into enormous complexes for tourists on vacation with lots of money to spend.
I could see this happening in Haiti, if only the wheels could begin turning. If Haiti could attract the travelers, the backpackers, I believe that it could then entice the big spending tourists to come again. Haiti once once the Caribbean’s center of the tourism universe. Then the country politically collapsed upon itself, just to be topped off by consistent streams of bad international press — images of kidnappings, two waves of AIDS scares, and now the deluge of images of the earthquake — further drove the knife into the belly of Haiti’s tourism industry.
I only saw two other backpackers in Cap Haitien during my stay, and they were on their way out of the hotel I was staying in disgust. Beyond that, the only foreigners I saw in Haiti were a few volunteers on their way back to the Dominican Republic and a group of church people with Canadian flags attached to their every part.
Tourism is a perpetual search for the next big SPOT. Haiti has potential, but the wheels of the country are not spinning towards these ends. Rather, the hotels are taking whatever they can get from whoever they can get it from for today, with little regard for tomorrow. If I was able to find $5 to $10 a night hotel rooms, I would have stayed in Haiti longer, I would have gone to more places, ate more meals, taken more transportation, drank more beers. I also would have told other travelers to follow me — go here, it is amazing, interesting, beautiful, the people are hospitable, friendly, and you can afford to travel there.
But I can not write these words. The days that I was in Haiti were some of the best traveling that I have done in a long time, but the hotels are too cost prohibitive for me to recommend the country to anyone whose pockets do not overflow with cash. And I fear that people with this kind of money have no interest in sleeping in a Haiti love hotel. A week of staying in the worst hotels in Haiti could cost a traveler upwards of $200. In comparison, a week in an all inclusive beach resort in the Dominican Republic costs $500.
As I watched the kids from Portland turn around in disgust and walk out of the $40 a night hotel in Cap-Haitien, I really hoped they took their money to the $80 luxury hotel on city’s outskirts, as they would have at least gotten value for their money. It is easy to walk out of an overpriced hotel, it is easy to walk out of a country.
The extreme cost of accommodation in Haiti is perhaps a one way ticket to the Dominican border.
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