VIDEO: Five years after earthquake, Haiti is ready for visitors
A "good vibe", Caribbean beaches and a raft of new hotel openings have catapulted Haiti back onto the tourist map, according to the country's dynamic young tourism minister.
Mention Haiti, and what words come to mind?
For many, "earthquake" will naturally be one of the first.
Stephanie Villedrouin, however, has a different take.
"I'll say authentic. I'll say unspoiled. And I'll say new."
Villedrouin, Haiti's 32-year-old Haitian Minister for Tourism, shared her thoughts during a flying visit to Irish aid agencies The Haven Partnership and Soul of Haiti in Dublin today.
She also took the opportunity to launch Haiti Week - held in January to raise awareness and funds for activities undertaken by Irish NGOs in Haiti.
January 12th marks the fifth anniversary of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake, which killed 250,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless in the Caribbean nation.
Since the earthquake, the Irish government and public have contributed over €37.3 million to the country's recovery.
The Minister also used her visit - hosted by Haven, Soul of Haiti and Irish tour operator Destination Haiti - to encourage Irish holidaymakers to see for themselves the beaches, hiking terrain and Afro-Caribbean culture on offer in her country.
“It is exciting to see that four years after the devastating earthquake, Haiti took the bold step of appointing a Minister with responsibility for Tourism," said Haven's founder and chairman, Leslie Buckley.
"While there is a huge amount of work to be done to restore any sense of economic recovery to Haiti, tourism is certainly one area that will play a role."
Describing Haiti as "almost virgin territory" for tourists, Minister Villedrouin singled out its coral reefs, cultural encounters and unique heritage (Haiti is the only country to have been formed by a slave revolt, back in 1804) as reasons to visit.
Surprisingly, perhaps, Haiti welcomed some some 420,000 overnight visitors in 2013, along with 600,000 cruise ship passengers.
In other momentum-building developments, the World Bank is investing US$45m in the re-development of Haiti's Citadelle – the largest fortress in the Western Hemisphere - and the Hilton and Marriot brands are set to open in 2015 and 2016.
The Minister's visit was also hosted by Destination Haiti, an Irish tour operator promoting Haiti as a tourist destination for people "who want their holidays to make a difference."
It was set up by High Brennan and Myles McPartland, both of whom have worked and travelled widely in Haiti. The pair are offering adventure packages, as well as corporate, walking and educational holidays for groups of 20 or less.
Villedrouin signed off with a heartfelt appeal.
"Haiti has upped its standards, Haiti is a secure country, and Haiti is waiting for your visit."
Haven Partnership: www.havenpartnership.com
Soul of Haiti: www.soulofhaiti.ie
Destination Haiti: www.destinationhaiti.ie