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Royal Caribbean Returns To Haiti

Royal Caribbean return to Labadee causes controversy

Ginny Light  Jan 19, 2010

The controversy surrounding Royal Caribbean International's decision to dock its ships in a Haitian port is not new for the travel industry.

The cruise line has come under scrutiny for allowing its ship, Independence of the Seas, to dock at Labadee port on the north of the island, where holidaymakers can disembark for swimming, watersports and sunbathing on the beach.

Royal Caribbean plans to send a further ship, Navigator of the Seas, to Labadee today, and will also dock Liberty of the Seas tomorrow and Celebrity Solstice on January 22. The company has defended the decision, saying it was not taken lightly.

In a statement, Royal Caribbean told Times Online: "The majority of guests are responding well to us returning to Haiti."

The cruise ships have delivered food and humanitarian aid to the island, to be distributed by charities. Royal Caribbean has also donated the company’s net revenue from the portion of its holidays taken in Haiti, thereby avoiding the criticism that it is profiting from the destination.

Nevertheless, the decision has received a mixed reception, with some saying it is in poor taste.

Tour operators and hotel companies faced similar criticism in 2004 when photographs were published of holidaymakers sunbathing and swimming within miles of the areas devastated by the tsunami in southeast Asia.

The photographs were met with shock and outrage by our readers. How can someone continue to enjoy the relaxation and frolics of a beach holiday when humans are enduring unfathomable suffering just miles away?

There is also the question of the pressure put on resources, such as water and food by tourists, when it is needed urgently by victims and survivors.

Unlike Thailand, Haiti’s economy does not rely heavily on revenue from tourism – political upheaval put paid to tourism in the early 1990s. Income from holidaymakers comes mostly from a limited number of visits by American tourists and from Labadee port, which is leased by Royal Caribbean.

Labadee is around 85 miles from Port-au-Prince and was not damaged by the earthquake. It is fenced off and patrolled by armed guards. Cruise ship visitors to the port do not go beyond its borders.

Debate over whether cruise ships should have returned to Labadee so soon after the earthquake have taken off on forums such as One user, aprilfool, is due to go to Labadee with Royal Caribbean next week: “I am on the 1/30 sailing of the NOS [Navigator of the Seas] and have been having conflicting emotions about our stop there…”

The website polled its readers to ask whether ships should have returned to Labadee so soon. An overwhelming majority – 67 per cent – felt that the ships should have docked as they were bringing aid and financial support to the economy.

The forums on the website support this view, with the majority of commentators arguing that the ships bring much needed financial support in addition to the aid. One, LHP, said: “The best thing they can do is just keep coming as planned and bring money to the economy."

Another regular cruise goer, called BND on the site, said: “It's not my fault nor will my not going ashore make any difference to those that have been affected by the earthquake.”

Cruise Critic editor, Carolyn Spencer Brown, told me: "Most of these folks in Labadee, well away from Port au Prince, have not been victims of the earthquake. Let's not victimize them further by staying away. Maybe, for passengers whose ships call at Labadee, the island experience won't be a tropical play-day but a way to support the Haitians who work there, and whose souvenirs and trinkets are for sale there. It's an opportunity to put down the pina colada and make an effort to talk with the Haitians, connect, hear their stories, learn something about their culture."

Holidaymakers who have gone ahead with travel to countries affected by natural disasters have taken aid packages with them, or volunteered for relief work, but these gestures are also the subject of criticism.

There is an issue of distribution of food and supplies, items that are perishable or nonessential, and the issue of whether short-term help from untrained workers is of any benefit in disaster recovery.

Of course, the decision is one that must be taken by the individual traveller. There is a certain “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” aspect to the decision.

My advice is to speak to the company you are travelling with. Ask them what they are doing to support the relief effort, ask for assurances that your accommodation is safe and will not be diverting resources from where it is needed.

It is also worth checking with aid agencies on the ground what is needed, then ensuring your donations are sensibly distributed. If you are continuing with your holiday in an effort to benefit your host destination, answering these questions will help to ensure your visit does just that.

Royal Caribbean return to Labadee causes controversy
Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas at Labadee, Haiti / Image via


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