The story of how Belle Vue Tours came into existence is similar to how other travel and tourism companies are founded: it all started with a trip. Husband and wife team Guerline and Hogarth Emmanuel had been organizing trips to Haiti’s northern region for years. During one of those trips in late 2009, the youngest member of their traveling entourage was so impressed by La Citadelle Laferriere, a landmark built by King Henri Christophe during the 19th Century, that he could only muster one word, “Wow”. From that moment, an idea occurred to Mrs. Emmanuel. If the structure could have impressed a little boy to that degree, how much more would it impress an adult?
Guerline and Hogarth Emmanuel enjoy some of what Haiti has to offer as a tourist destination.
Born in Haiti, Guerline T. Emmanuel left the island, when she she was eight years old, and Hogarth Emmanuel immigrated to the USA when he was twelve. Hogarth made his first trip back to Haiti four years later, whereas his wife didn’t start making trips back to the island until she was in her early twenties. It occurred to the Emmanuels that there might be others just like them, as well as foreigners who needed a taste of Haiti’s magnificence. Belle Vue Tours, or BV Tours, as they sometimes call it, was founded. With the spouses’ combined experience in accounting, marketing, and sales, and having worked in varying industries such as healthcare, banking and pharmaceuticals, they were confident that they could make the venture work.
Guerline T. Emmanuel, the co-founder gave Kreyolicious.com some additional background about the company, and had lots to share with other entrepreneurs.
Is it a huge challenge running a travel tours company?
It is a huge challenge running a travel tours company. We must assure the clients are informed to make sure they are satisfied and their trip is not a surprise. On the logistical side there are a lot of behind the scenes detail work that have to be done. The subcontracted partners have to be vetted to make sure our clients will receive the best service possible. That includes all the hotels, transportation contractors, guides as well as restaurants. Most all-inclusive packages only pertain to the hotels; however, BVTours give our clients the opportunity to sample local restaurants and other hotels and all is included in the package cost. Last but not least, we have to evaluate the logistics when traveling from one place to the next as well as the sites that we are visiting. Research is one of our biggest challenge and where we spend most of our time making sure our packages are safe, filled with adventure, sampling of local cultures, and fun. We want our customers to realize what we share is authentic, that is why all form of advertisement from our website, to Facebook and so on, showcase pictures that are taken of the different places we visit in Haiti.
How do your customers react after their trips to Haiti?
One of our clients in their own words: “Guerline, Somewhere I read something to the effect “Haiti will shatter your heart, and it will only return some of the pieces. Others will remain in Haiti forever.” Haiti taught me many things. So did the group I traveled with, especially you and Hogarth. The economic poverty is truly a tragedy, but the Haitian people survive with a stoic strength in the face of great difficulty. I only wish that they, and the world, had a better appreciation for the truly epic history Haitian slaves created through the revolution. In my mind, slaves overthrowing France is one of the great achievements in history, and perhaps the greatest in black history. It was a privilege to travel with BVTours last summer, and I hope to repeat the trip in August, although it will never equal the first time. My life is filled with adventures. Of those that were of my choosing, visiting Haiti is one of the most significant. I am very grateful.”
Travelers being guided by Belle Vue Tours take a moment to pose for a photo.
What do they enjoy going to most, and what activities are they most enchanted with?
We think where they enjoyed going to most was the National History Park; however each area we travel to is indescribable. We drove through the city of Cap-Haïtien on a Sunday afternoon and had the pleasure to go to Paradise Beach in Labadie. The whole area is breathtaking and it takes a while to walk along the beach and wrap your mind around the different areas of Haïti. You have this feeling over and over from visiting the Citadelle, Fort Picolet, Paradise Beach to Gonaïves, Ogier-Fombrun Museum, foot-walking in Ile-à-Vache. Each area is like unwrapping an unforgettable gift or viewing a breathtaking collage.
What do you love most about what you do?
What we do is challenging and rewarding as well. Belle Vue Tours is more than a tour company it is a learning experience; we look forward to uncover Haïti’s richness, and with each group that visits we get to relive the magic time and time again. On our tours we’ve visited historical sites, museums, restaurants, beaches, etc… We provide an authentic experience with the goal of economically impacting Haïti through tourism and make sure we invest not only in the hotels, restaurants but local markets where we are buying things such as coffee, artworks and souvenirs.
Tourists walk on the grounds of one of King Henri Christophe’s palaces.
What are your favorite spots to visit in Haiti?
Our favorite spot to visit in Haiti will always be the National History Park in Milot. To visit the Citadelle and Palais Sans Souci is a lasting testimony of our greatness and what we are capable of as a people when we put our minds to it and live up to our creed of “L’Union Fait la Force”. If you are of “1804” and understand what that means, it helps you realize what the human spirit is capable of and what your ancestors were able to accomplish. What exactly are we facing now that we cannot overcome? 1804 gives us eternal hope no matter how bleak things can look sometimes.
Give us a rundown of what the Haiti tourism industry is like at this point?
The Haiti tourism industry is like all parts of our society, struggling to catch up to years of neglect and misunderstanding of its importance in the development of a nation. [The year] 2010 was a wake up call for a renewed interest in our history and our part in getting Haiti to where it should be in the world. There are a lot of work being done to educate how tourism is an important sector in the economic development and its contribution to different sectors of the society. The government and private sector in the hope of luring the diaspora, which spends a tremendous amount of money, visiting other countries while still avoiding their native land, are carrying out this work. We are all using the social media to bring people closer to the treasures that Haiti holds. We believe if we show ourselves to be trustworthy, safe, and service oriented we will make great strides in the tourism sector within the next decade.
Belle Vue Tours clients take a look at an arts and crafts store during a Haiti trip.
What can BVTours Customers look forward to in times to come?
BVTours customers can look forward to great service, renewed visits to previous destinations such as Cap-Haitien, Port-Salut, Les Cayes, Port-au-Prince, Ile-a-Vache and new destinations and historical sites such as Jacmel, Gonaïves, Fort-Liberte, Museum of Limbe, Saut d’Eau, Fort Drouet, Bassin Bleu—just to name a few.
What have you learned along the way that you’d like to pass on to other people with similar endeavors?
Work with partners who’ve proven to be reliable and seasoned professionals in the tourism industry in Haiti. There are numerous partnerships to be made to make such endeavors are successful from guide associations, local tour guides, hotels, restaurants, car companies and different service vendors. Vet local markets and artisans to provide clients the opportunity to purchase local products, souvenirs, and other made in Haiti items to help impact the Haitian economy. Know your product and your destinations as well as the subcontractors you hire. Be flexible, always have a backup plan. It’s hard work to change people’s mindset so hold yourselves to the highest standard so you can build trust with your past, present and future clienteles and partners.Most importantly partner with others in the industry so we can be a resource and support for one another, it is a daunting task to do this all alone.
To read about other players in the Haiti Tourism game, CLICK HERE.