Blessed with generations of family leadership – and having overcome the challenges of natural disasters as well as underfunded governments and economic instability – the executive management at Le Plaza Hotel know as much about resilience, creativity and the power of networking as they do about hospitality.
Located in the central part of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, the iconic hotel weathered the catastrophic earthquake that wreaked havoc on the Caribbean nation in 2010, but was spared the devastation suffered by much of the capital and surrounding businesses. As a result, the property was able to house relief and recovery workers from many countries.
Under the leadership of the Pierre-Louis family, the Le Plaza team learned many lessons from the earthquake and its aftermath – most notably the importance of strong community partnerships and the need to have back-up plans in place.
“So, we tend to be extremely resilient and have a variety of contingency plans to ensure our staff and guests are well taken care of,” noted general manager Marc Pierre-Louis, who assumed the reins of the hotel from his older sister Agnes Pierre-Louis, now a tourism consultant working throughout the Caribbean and Latin America.
Pierre-Louis observed that over the years Haitian hoteliers have developed coping mechanisms: “All the hoteliers and basically all the businesses have a culture of extreme self-reliance … we work with the government, but also rely on each other,” he said, adding “you’re only as strong as your community network.”
Le Plaza has often been described as “an island within an island” because its secure structures and location make it a haven during crises. “In the hurricane season, we put in contingency plans with our staff. Certain members of our staff might not have secure shelter so we’ll accommodate them and their families at our hotel. If it’s a different kind of disruption, we’ll put in plans so that shifts can sleep overnight.”
He also recalled being able to fly to the aid of those stricken in other Caribbean islands: “This was kind of ironic. Haiti is usually on the receiving end of aid. But, when a hurricane hit Turks and Caicos last year, a friend and I chartered a small Cessna aircraft to fly in a generator and some tarps. Nothing was working, so within 48 hours of the hurricane hitting we managed to get in and provide some support. And that was probably the first outbound Haitian-aid flight ever!”
To Pierre-Louis, regional conferences such as the Caribbean Hotel Industry Exchange Forum (CHIEF), organized by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) this summer, are opportunities to build relationships that could save lives throughout the Caribbean.
“You really have to cultivate relationships and see where can you find the right help at the right moment. There are different phases to a disaster – there’s the immediate action and then there’s recovery and rebuilding. So for different phases you need different skill sets and you definitely have to be aware of what are you going to need at different times, what’s missing in your Rolodex, in your network, and look actively for people to help you build that out,” he said.
“No man is an island. We are strong together and must continue to build partnerships at all levels – local, regional and international,” said Pierre-Louis.