I’ve worked on a lot of development deals, but none have involved a former U.S. President, celebrities and our associates. It’s an incredible story of an inspired group coming together to build and now open the Marriott Port-au-Prince Hotel in Haiti.
Just five years ago on January 12, 2010, a major earthquake devastated Haiti and left much of the country in ruin. I’ll never forget where I was – the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Hotel. Our hotels in south Florida have many, many Haitian associates. Our Harbor Beach hotel laundry team came up to me wondering about their families back home. It was a very emotional time. Many went back to their country to search through the rubble. It was clear that this natural disaster had changed the country forever. Many existing hotels were badly damaged, not to mention the infrastructure. A massive rebuilding effort was needed to house both residents and relief workers.
Our Floridian Haitian associates sent me a video message a few months later that said: “Build it.”
Hotels often serve as a bellwether. As a country’s economy strengthens, hotels start to pop up. We decided not to wait for this to happen in Haiti. We saw an opportunity to help be the “spark” in the country’s recovery. To bring the project to life, a powerful coalition was formed with the Clinton Global Initiative and Haiti’s leading telecommunications company, Digicel. During the construction phase, there were obstacles everywhere, but the team didn’t lose its resolve. And now Marriott is ready to welcome travelers from around the world to Haiti.
What visitors will find when they arrive is an adventurous destination with gorgeous beaches and friendly people. This online article says it all:
"Haiti is Open for Business: A new hotel in Port-au-Prince will bring business, employment — and hope — to a country in need."
It was rewarding to see how our Haitian associates embraced this project. Their “build it” mantra turned into “work it.” Many returned to their native country to help train and work in the hotel. Sharon Sylhomme, a Haitian-American, “came home” for the first time to become Marriott’s Director of Finance.
Pierre Lucardo, Marriott’s first Haitian hire, has worked his way up from the slums of Cité Soleil. Along with the other local youth hired, he was sent to the JW Marriott Santo Domingo for training. This experience has transformed his life.
There are a lot of people to thank, but foremost is Haiti’s telecommunication company, Digicel, which owns the hotel. Its chairman Denis O’Brien has made another wonderful investment in his community.
I often talk about Marriott as a family business. With Haiti we’ve added a new country and new family members. It couldn’t have happened without our culture of helping others. We call it our “Spirit to Serve.” After all, that’s what family is all about.
I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the move.