Royal Caribbean’s Stop at Haiti draws mixed reaction
Royal Caribbean’s quick return to Haiti in the wake of last week’s earthquake has drawn mixed reaction from cruise fans, with some praising the line for not abandoning the country while others say it’s inappropriate.
The 3,654-passenger Independence of the Seas — one of the world’s largest cruise ships — went ahead with a scheduled call along the relatively unaffected north coast of the country on Friday, and another Royal Caribbean ship, the 3,114-passenger Navigator of the Seas, arrives along the coast today.
In addition to vacationers, Royal Caribbean is bringing relief supplies that were quickly loaded onto the vessels after Tuesday’s disaster to be distributed to affected parts of the country by Food for the Poor and other groups. The line also has promised at least $1 million in humanitarian relief for Haiti and says it will donate 100% of its net revenue from the visits to relief efforts.
Still, some of the line’s customers, posting on Web sites such as CruiseCritic.com and here at USA TODAY’s Cruise Log, say it’s too soon to be bringing tourists to any part of Haiti — even its relatively unaffected north coast.
“I agree with them bringing in relief efforts, but not sure any visitors are warranted in Haiti right now,” Cruise Log reader elitetravel says in a Cruise Log post. “I can’t imagine sitting on the beach, drinking a margarita and laughing it up while people are suffering so much in that country.”
Writes another Cruise Log reader, PamelaMurphy: “I am scheduled to be on a cruise starting Jan. 31 that is stopping in Labadee, (and) I feel I do not want to be there nor do I belong there at this time … Haiti is now a land suffering from death and destruction of a huge magnitude.”
Another Cruise Log reader now on one of the ships visiting Haiti, craiggo, by contrast, praises the line’s response. “I agree and support Royal Caribbean’s decision to support the people (of Haiti) by making the ship available to transport goods and (keeping) the money in the economy.”
Royal Caribbean operates a private beach area for its cruise ships on Haiti’s north coast called Labadee that employs hundreds of Haitians and is an important source of revenue for the country. Far from Port-au-Prince and the epicenter of the disaster, it’s located in an area that only experienced light tremors during the quake. Royal Caribbean has said the buildings, pier and attractions at the resort-like area were undamaged.
“There were a lot of discussions about (going ahead with calls), but in the end, Labadee is critical to Haiti’s recovery and hundreds of people rely on Labadee for their livelihood,” Royal Caribbean associate vice president John Weis wrote last week on a Royal Caribbean company blog.
Weis said Royal Caribbean executives talked with the U.N. Special Envoy of the Government of Haiti, Leslie Voltaire, before making the decision, and Voltaire told the company the revenue Haiti would generate from upcoming cruise calls would be critical to its recovery.
Royal Caribbean is one of the only travel companies that has made a major investment in Haiti in recent years and has a relationship with the country that goes back more than two decades.
“We also have tremendous opportunities to use our ships as transport vessels for relief supplies and personnel to Haiti,” said Weis. “Simply put, we cannot abandon Haiti now that they need us most.”
Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez tells USA TODAY the Independence of the Seas delivered approximately 40 pallets of water, rice, dried beans and canned foods to Haiti on Friday. The Navigator of the Seas, arriving today, is carrying twice as much, she says.
“Yesterday, two more ships heading for Labadee were loaded with supplies,” Martinez says. “We will continue to transport much needed goods to Labadee on all of our ships heading to Haiti.”