PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – When U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly disparaged Haiti as a so-called “s---hole” country, the country’s defenders pushed back, saying that despite the island nation’s many challenges, Haiti is more than the disaster zone often portrayed on news reports.
They pointed to Haiti’s rich culture and stunning landscapes – assets that have been slowly but steadily drawing tourists from across the globe back to the county in recent years.
Decades ago, before the disasters and political unrest, the county’s natural beauty, art and music drew thousands to Haiti, including Hollywood stars.
Haiti’s tourism boosters are now determined to take advantage of the renewed global attention and turn Trump’s negative comments into a positive.
“We may end up thanking Mr. Trump because there's been so much outpouring and disgust about what he said,” said Jacqualine “Jacqui” Labrom, director of Voyages Lumiere, which organizes tours of Haiti. "What we have tried to do is show that there is a lot in Haiti that Trump doesn't know about.”
But can Haiti return to its glory days as a Caribbean hot spot?
Haiti literally means "a land of mountains," and like every mountain, there are valleys. From politics to poverty to natural disasters, the challenges that Haiti faces are steep.
But unlike other Caribbean islands, Haiti is far less developed. Ironically, the country’s recent troubles have had an unintended effect, preserving some of its beaches, waterfalls and historic architecture.
"That’s the advantage of Haiti – it’s like time stopped with us," Valerie Louis, executive director of the Association Touristique d’Haïti, told the British newspaper The Independent last year.
The county is in process of opening up those sites, including Bassin Bleu, one of the countries' seven waterfalls in Jacmel.
The road to get there is challenging. President Jovenel Moise said he is working to fix the roads in Jacmel to make it easier for tourists to travel.
Moise also wants to build a cable car in the future for tourists to easily access the Citadelle Laferriere, a fortress on the northern coast.
Besides its natural beauty, potential tourists will also want to know about Haiti's world-famous art.
Labrom, a travel expert in Haiti for two decades, often takes visitors to Croix-des-Bouquets, an entire village dedicated to Haitian art.
The town is home to thousands artists who craft intricate metal sculptures known as fer decoupe from recycled oil drums.
Haiti’s tourism boosters are using social media to attract people, in particular young people, to the country.
Some argue that visiting Haiti will do far more to pull the country out of poverty than donating to charities.
"We need to change the narrative about being so negative about Haiti," said Christian Roy Fombrun of Royal Decameron Resort & Spa. "Our country -- it's too beautiful not to come and visit."