Across the globe the Travel & Tourism (T&T) sector has become recognised as a powerful vehicle for building economies, societies, and futures. Through the sector a destination – city, nation, region – can be joined through a shared vision, identity and sense of purpose to open its doors to travellers of the world. In sector building is nation building.

Sadly, sometimes this building needs to occur from the ground up.

January 12th, 2010. Haiti. A new year. New hopes, new aspirations, new energy, new opportunity. But then the Earth shook. And in 10 seconds the nation’s capital came falling to the ground. Buildings collapsed onto the lives of the Haitian people. Over 200,000 souls were taken by the earthquake, leaving behind millions of lives broken to rubble. All in just ten seconds.

Almost as immediately the global community turned its eyes and hearts to Haiti. Aid workers and funds started to pour in. In a spirit reflecting the times in which we now live, actions spoke clearly that we are one world, facing this crisis as one. With Haiti the world gasped, the world grieved, the world gathered to help break through the rubble to set free those still holding on to life. And the world started thinking of how to rebuild the future of the Haitian people and their homeland.

At the top of the list of ways to enable Haiti to rise again was the T&T sector.

The Island nation, already known and experienced as a destination for sun seeking travellers, has the potential to be rebuilt to once again welcome back those who, through their spending could in fact help rebuild the nation, tourism sector and beyond. T&T can have a very real role to play in lifting the structures, systems and spirits of Haiti, rebuilding off of a solid, safe, secure and sustainable base.

In addition, the process of rebuilding the sector will open up meaningful opportunities for Haitians to work, and therefore earn, again. This re-activation of the cycle of engagement, employment, earning and spending would allow the ripples of economic activity to spread stronger and wider.

Sounds like a plan.

Rebuilding Haiti through rebuilding the T&T sector is indeed a powerful, achievable vision. With it, however, needs to be sensitivity. With all building sites comes the risk of locals getting hurt, in ways completely unintended.

A nation reengineering as a T&T destination, even with the greatest of humanitarian intent in the mortar of each building to be constructed, needs to ensure that the building of a tourism sector reflective of the needs and wishes of tourists is also sensitive to the needs and wishes of the locals of the destination itself. For to build a tourism industry for the needs of visitors without being cognisant of the needs of the people of Haiti will risk severe damage.

For a local who has lost everything as a result of natural disaster (or even man made crisis) to see hotels rising and yet no homes, resorts and yet no road works, water sports & scuba centers and yet no schools, meeting places and yet no medical facilities…even if all of the development is being put in place to improve the lives of the local people through T&T, the investment into T&T will risk actually alienating the local people.

If it appears that the focus of rebuilding is on tourists, and not the people of the destination, a very natural of reaction of “what about me?” can be expected…thus creating animosity and anger towards the industry – and travellers.

By no means should of areas devastated by disaster look away from the T&T sector. Quite the contrary – the sector can in fact act as a valuable force for rebuilding of the infrastructure and economy of the destination. And the spirit of the people. There is so much good that can and will come from the T&T sector taking an active, upfront role in destination rebuilding.

The sector must simply ensure that the bigger picture is always kept firmly at the forefront of planning:
• Sharing the new vision for the destination – and its benefits for the people of the destination – with the people of the destination
• Involving the people of the destination in destination design and development
• Addressing fundamental needs of the people of the destination into integrated destination development plans.

As T&T works to build a world bringing travellers closer to global destinations, so too should the sector work to bring people of the destination closer to global tourism.

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2010