A new international airport in 1965 and improved relations with the United States helped Haiti's tourism industry to flourish in the 1970s. Tourist arrivals (139,000 by air and 163,000 by sea) peaked in 1980, and net expenditures on tourism (US$44 million) reached their highest level in 1981 before a series of events made Haiti unpopular among tourists. One of these events was publicity surrounding Haiti as a possible origin of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and the high number of AIDS cases among Haitians. The former allegation proved false, but the portrait lingered, along with television images of political violence, dire poverty, "boat people," and general instability.
For the tourists who ventured to the "land of mountains," Haiti held a number of attractions: exotic culture, exquisite French cuisine, distinctive and colorful art and handicrafts, castles, hotels, and a resort setting virtually free of street crime. Its warm climate, friendly people, and low prices were further attractions. In the late 1980s, North Americans, especially people from the United States, continued to account for more than three-quarters of all visitors. Large numbers of Haitian emigrés also visited the country after the fall of JeanClaude Duvalier. The declining number of tourists in general forced many hotels to close, however, and the total number of rooms registered in the industry dropped from 3,000 in 1981 to 1,500 in 1987. In contrast, the number of hotel rooms in the neighboring Dominican Republic quadrupled over the same time period. Haiti's tourist industry tended to be an enclave economic activity, distinguished by all-inclusive, self-contained beach resorts and brief cruise ship dockings in Cap Haïtien or Port-au- Prince. Prospects for reviving tourism dimmed in the late 1980s, when the Haitian government closed its tourist-promotion office in New York City.
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