Can Tourism and Tragedy Mix? Royal Caribbean’s Haiti Decision

Editor’s Note: Thanks to IMAGES resident travel-guru, Hank Koppelman, for this entry!

On January 15th, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines’ (RCCL) Independence of the Seas ship, loaded with 4,300 passengers, made its normal stop at the privately owned resort of Labadee, on the north side of Haiti. What was it that made this stop at the resort different from previous arrivals? It was the fact that RCCL’s decision came just days after the devastating earthquake destroyed the majority of Port au Prince and, left most Haitians homeless, and killed an estimated 150,000 people.

Critics immediately lambasted RCCL for their decision to continue bringing wealthy tourists to a nation reeling from the devastation of the earthquake. I have to admit, I was one of those who initially thought the decision was poorly thought out and a public relations disaster that would haunt RCCL for years to come. The decision was met with derision in media throughout the world.

As RCCL began to aggressively try to educate the media regarding their decision, I began to better understand the facts behind their reasoning. Royal Caribbean has been working with Haiti for the past 30 years, employs approximately 500 Haitians and has just recently completed a $50 million project. They are not new-comers to the nation and in fact, they may be the largest foreign investor in Haiti.

Before docking the Independence of the Seas in Labadee, RCCL sought and received permission from the Haitian government. Upon receiving permission, they made the stop with a ship stocked with supplies for the relief effort and continued to provide the Haitian workers with employment, continuing to generate much needed revenue for the stricken country.

While defending his company’s decision, Adam Goldstein, CEO of Royal Caribbean commented:

“We feel very strongly as a company that the best thing we can do for our relationship with the Haitian people post-earthquake is to bring the ships and supplies and the economic benefit that a ship call represents to the north coast. Not only for the 500 or so people who work on the site and the vendors, but we know it is an economic engine for a much larger circle of people who cut into the affected area.”

“Our goal continues to be to educate everyone that we can that our activity is very beneficial to the Haitian people; that it is the outgrowth of 30-year relationship; that the government wants us to be there; that we are landing a significant amount of relief supplies.”

This is not the first time tourism and tragedy have mixed. In our own country, post September 11th, Mayor Rudy Giuliani begged the American people to visit New York, spend their money in New York and to help rebuild the economy. After the devastating tsunami in Asia, all government officials strongly requested the continuation of tourism in the affected areas, since tourism is truly the economic engine in most regions of the world.

The incongruity of the situation has resulted in what I consider undue criticism of Royal Caribbean from “media experts” who do not fully understand the background or the details of the decision. Now that you know the “rest of the story,” what do you think?

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2 responses to “Can Tourism and Tragedy Mix? Royal Caribbean’s Haiti Decision

  1. “media experts” is often a synonym for “negativity-spewing fear-monger.” weak sauce!

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