Our community doesn’t lack exceptional leadership and this woman is one passionate lover of Haiti who is on a mission to showcase Haiti’s rich history and culture to the world through tourism. Meet Guerline T. Emmanuel, Founder and Managing Director of Belle Vue Tours. A native of Cap-Haïtien Haïti, Guerline developed deep interest on everything Haiti at a very young age and it only grew overtime. We had the pleasure of interviewing her and she shared her thoughts on Haiti, her passion for the country, and much more…
Tell us a bit about Bellevue Tours?
Belle Vue Tours is a historical, cultural group travel and tour outbound company for Haïti; founded by my husband, Hogarth Emmanuel and I in 2009. We specialize in annual all inclusive yearly organize tours. Our South Exploratory Tour covers Léogâne, Port-au-Prince, Port-Salut, Île-à-Vache and sites such as Saut Mathurine, Grotte Marie-Jeanne (one of the largest cave system in the Caribbean), Fort des Oliviers in Saint Louis du Sud and more. Our other annual tour is the Christophienne Tour, in which we honor Henry Christophe as we explore Cap-Haïtien and its surrounding areas including Citadelle, Palais Sans Souci, Vertières and other famous sites. We also specialize in conducting day tours for groups visiting Haïti and looking for 1-day excursions, private customize group tours for family and friends who have their own group and looking to tour these sites.
At a time when so many were saying don’t go to Haiti, especially for leisure, How did this idea for a travel company start?
Hogarth and I came to the USA at respectively young ages. We started going back to Haïti because we had family there and our parents used to travel in the summer. Like most people in the 80’s, we were hearing horrible stories and even though we have been going back with our first born since he turned one, we were a little apprehensive. While visiting Jamaica for weddings, vacations etc. three times in one year, Hogarth turned to me and said why am I driving in another country and visiting at least 3-4 localities and I can’t do this in Haïti? What big difference is there from what we have and what I am seeing outside these windows? I remembered he looked at me and said with his next breath, “I need to go to Haïti at least once a year and if we have to make a choice between another country or our home, Haïti it will be”. Furthermore, we thought it was extremely important for our boys to connect to our homeland. The next year, we ignored the family panic and went home. We travelled to Port-de-Paix (where Hogarth is from) and ended our journey in my home city of Cap-Haïtien. This was our biggest AHA moment! While everyone in the states were setting their hair on fire, being anxious for us, we were having the time of our lives in Haiti. Life and news was a total disconnect. Two things we realized was our oldest son had been asking all year round after not traveling to Haïti for a year “when were we going back”;it wasn’t if but “when”. Our little guy who was 6 at the time, had a total disconnect from what we were talking about and Haïti. When we finally went as a family that summer, I remembered he was in awe of everything he saw, the music, people in the street, being able to cross a street in Okap (Cap-Haïtien), Kreyòl everywhere, and buying candy on his own… It was a big adventure to get on a horse to tour Citadelle, and when he got there his eyes were wide and WOW was what came out of his mouth. He ran throughout the fort amaze at the structure, how did it get there? Who built it? Etc… A few days later, we went to the beach and before he went in the water he turned around and said “Mommy you never told me Haïti was a paradise, this is better than Hawaii”. From that moment on, we started on this unknown journey without knowing we wanted to share this experience with other people and have them react the same way.
What motivated you to start Belle Vue Tours?
My motivation is my father’s love and him saying often “I come from one of the greatest country in the world”. He used to always fuss with us to take us (his children) to Haitian shows, musical performances and to find out years later after our first tour and hiding it from our family so they don’t discourage us. My father used to take people to Citadelle around the 60’s when we had cruise ships that use to dock in Cap-Haïtien. When we told him our plan after our 1st tour, it wasn’t disappointment or discouragement we heard, he said “you make sure to show them how amazing our country is”.
Who are the people that go on tour with you?
We have a large demographics of professional Haitian women that left Haïti when they were small and/or having one parent that is Haitian, born outside of Haïti and want to connect and learn about their roots. We also have foreigners who are educators, travelers, culture seekers who have heard about Haïti and always wanted to travel and learn more about our great history. I believe most if not all the people are change by our tours in one way or another. We had a guests who thought Haïti had very minimal trees and was surprise with the landscape when we were touring. Others, especially some Haitian-Americans, heard of Haïti but had no idea about our independence never heard of the Citadelle, Palais Sans Souci, the great battle of Vertières defeating the great army of Napoleon nor knew about 1804.
Who are you looking forward to bring to Haiti?
I’m looking forward to the diaspora being a huge impactful tourism population year round in Haïti. Instead of counting the billions we send home via transfers, I want to count the billions we spend at home impacting the local economy.
Why do you think its important for people, (non-Haitians and Haitians alike) to travel to Haiti?
It is EXTREMELY important to travel to Haïti because economically we are able to directly impact the country through tourism dollars. Haïti at the moment is a country where most of the businesses are Haïtian owned, therefore the money you are spending is going to impact a family instantly. Imagine we celebrated our 5th year anniversary with a 40-people north and south tour throughout Haïti. The hotels, restaurants and merchants we purchased from were directly impacted. We supported local jobs, farmers and spent an hour at an art village where one person bought metal artworks for approximately $300. That is one tourist, now add that to the other 30-people who also spent and purchased from these merchants. That is a years rent, tuition for a family member, uniform fee etc.
What tips and advice do you have for anyone interested in doing business in Haiti?
First and foremost travel to Haïti first. Do not come with preconceive ideas that Haïti is in constant need and we on the outside know better. There are a lot of competent, hardworking people in Haïti that you can form solid partnerships with. Above all, Haïti has its own culture and we need to take the time to understandand respect it like we would respect any other nation. We have to be self-aware when we our using our “western” thinking and habits from as trivial as a handshake to as big as a solution to a business problem.
What’s been the biggest business hurdle with Belle Vue Tours?
Getting Haitians and Haitian-Americans to see Haïti as a touristic destination and not as a “volunteering destination trip”. We are just as safe, if not safer than some of the places they are currently visiting.
What’s your favorite place (city, or structure) in Haiti?
Oh WOW! That is a tough one! I love the originality of each locality and the presence of our forefathers. Apart from Toussaint Louverture which I feel is celebrated everywhere, visiting Marchand Desssalines to see his presence and everything honoring him there and remembering a time in history where Dessalines’ name could not be mentioned. To now see school carrying Boisrond Tonnere’s name in Torbeck, our great historian and writer of our constitution. The legacy of the Taíno etch on the rocks in Limbé and Saint Suzanne. The brilliance of Henry Christophe, who dared to be king and left us Palais Sans Souci and Citadelle Henry. I don’t have a favorite place, city or structure, I have a love, pride, and passion for Haïti and a burning desire to see her take her Majestic place in the world and most importantly for our nation and our people to believe and understand that.
What’s your favorite, Haiti Beaches or Mountains?
LOL, there is a mountain in Limbé called Belle Vue Mountain and also there is Makandal Mountain near Bassin Waka in the north. I love the name connection and historical significance. However the whole of Haïti is a beautiful mountainous landscape. I’m bias, so my favorite beaches are in the north near Cap-Haïtien.
For anyone who has never been to Haiti, or who hasn’t been a for long time, wanting to travel to Haiti for the first time, what would be your advice to them?
Go with a company that can assist in making you feel more comfortable. Some people don’t want to be in a group with strangers, I suggest create a small group of family and friends instead. Others want to taste a little of the country and would rather stay at a resort, you have some great resorts in the north and Montrouis area you can contact. There are some great hotels, restaurants we’ve feature over the years, check out our social media pages. These hotels have great customer service, they are creating jobs especially among our young population, they work with local farmers and we believe in working with partners that are also investing in uplifting the local population. If we named them, or showcase them on our social media pages you can be assured they service is important to them and your business is welcome.
Share one or more of your highlights of Belle Vue Tours.
Last year, on the last night, of the Discover Haïti Tour to celebrate our 5th year anniversary, we’ve just spent 10-days touring from north to south with 40-people. The celebration began with an opening night at La Kay restaurant in Cap-Haïtien, touring Citadelle, Palais Sans Souci, Labadie, Limbé, Marchand Dessalines, Jacmel, Côteaux, Port Salut, Île-à-Vache etc. and getting to celebrate my birthday at Le Vers D’Or in Kenscoff, when we went back to our room at Kinam Hotel I SCREAMED! LOL…We just showed we can be tourists in our Haïti from one end to the other. Having the gift of Chokarella present to capture this moment as a special gift was….(breathe). In addition, I am immensely proud and honored to have been featured American Airlines magazine Hidden Glory article on American Way magazine in May 2016.
What’s Next for Belle Vue Tours?
We believe Belle Vue Tours is your point of introduction or re-entry to Haïti. Continuous growth and facilitate bringing the world to Haïti, especially the millions of diaspora Haïti has throughout the world. We are working with new partners, spearheading new initiatives and collaborations to continue to promote Haïti as a one of a kind touristic destination. We are growing our client base and social media footprint to own our narrative, work with the tourism businesses in Haïti to not see us only as competition but part of a global block working to elevate the tourism industry in the country. We applaud every initiative being made, from tourism summits, new tour companies in country and outbound, hotels, restaurants, transportation companies, local farmers as well as solo, family and group travelers because we are all responsible and working toward the change we seek. We are interconnected and effect one another, Haïti will not get to where we want it to be with a few companies in this sector, we need thousands working to bring billions.
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