Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Royal Caribbean and Labadee, Haiti - Vacations, Industry, Relief Efforts...And, Yes, Critics.

Royal Caribbean, in addition to its direct relief efforts (providing and off-loading desperately needed supplies), has decided to return to its "private island" of Labadee, Haiti.  I applaud this and will explain later.

On the other hand, one United Kingdom newspaper, The Guardian, has taken a rather sickening approach:  Sell newspapers by twisting the reality to make it all sound sordid.  The writer, Robert Booth, should be ashamed of himself.  But, alas, anyone that would pervert the disaster in Haiti to profit (economically or his ego) has insufficient ethics to enable such feelings.  You can read his two articles here and here...and please read them before reading further.  I want to feel the same disgust and violation I did as you read the truth afterwards.

OK, now the facts. 

First, Royal Caribbean is a business and, in part, "industry" in Haiti.  It employs 230 Haitians directly and supports an additional 270 merchants via its straw market vendors, hair-braiders, etc. for a total of 500 people.  Those 500 people have families and close friends that directly benefit from the income; making the direct impact on over 2,000 people.  Robert Booth and The Guardian have the self-centered and thoughtless approach that it is better to abandon those people and to shift the industry away from Haiti and not only have Royal Caribbean pay people at another port, but have its guests give their vacation dollars to less in-need people as well.  That's right:  Booth wants everyone to shut their eyes by not going there, pull the industry out of the country by going elsewhere, and then say, "See, we are so concerned about the Haitian people and we want to help."

Second, Royal Caribbean has directly donated $1,000,000 to the relief effort.  Royal Caribbean also reports that 100% of the proceeds from the calls at Labadee are being donated to the relief effort and that 40 pallets of rice, beans, powdered milk, water, and canned foods were delivered on Friday, and a further 80 are due and 16 on two subsequent ships. When supplies arrive in Labadee, they are distributed by Food for the Poor, a longtime partner of Royal Caribbean in Haiti.

Third, Booth criticized that the dock was being used by a cruise ship rather than by supply ships.  What he doesn't report (possibly because he didn't think to check) is that the United States Coast Guard surveyed every possible dock in Haiti and determined that the Royal Caribbean dock was not sufficient for the relief effort.  Why?  Well, without having spoken to the Coast Guard, it seems pretty obvious:  The dock is located about 100 miles from the areas needing the supplies and the roads are in ruins as you near the quake's epicenter; the infrastructure was designed to facilitate people, not cargo; and, without limitation, the infrastructure was designed to keep guests on site and to avoid easy access to/from the local Haitian roads and communities.

Fourth, in an effort to find additional ways to assist, Royal Caribbean has begun donating any lounge chairs and other surplus supplies from its facilities and, as a result, has greatly assisted in supporting a local hospital.  Why Booth seems to want to make this sound like it is simply tossing its trash and claiming it is a good thing is beyond comprehension.  In a crisis that sees people desperate for any sort of comfort and doctors welcoming anything that allows them to keep quake victims off the ground, it leaves me (almost) speechless.  (And if the facilities were gutting of all lounges and supplies the millions of dollars in recurring income - discussed above - would simply vanish because there would be no way to sell the goods and services to the vacationers.)

Let me summarize: 

If you are so troubled by the Haitian crisis that you think Labadee, Haiti should be avoided as a Royal Caribbean port, are you sufficiently troubled that you have donated to the relief effort?  And if you have donated to the relief effort, has that donation equaled what you have/will spend in a mere 24 hours on your vacation (that day in Haiti)? Or do you think your vacation (as long as it is not in Haiti) is your business and not anyone else's?

And, if you are in support of Royal Caribbean (or any other cruise line) pulling out millions of dollars of business and shutting down an entire industry that supports thousands of Haitians, what is your suggestion as to how those thousands are going to be supported...today, tomorrow and months from now? Please remember that handouts are a one-time thing and jobs/industry provide a continuous revenue flow.

Oh, and when will it be acceptable to you for the cruise business to return to Haiti?  There will be suffering in Haiti for years to come.  (Like there wasn't enough before the quake!)

Let none of us be righteous.  Let is be smart and caring.

So while you think how hard it is to enjoy yourself while there is suffering of unimaginable proportions less than 100 miles away, ask yourself if it is better to turn your back on the suffering; making it all impersonal, or instead to find a way to personally contribute...with dollars, with business, with support of economic growth.

What do you think?  Join the discussion at The Gold Standard Travel Forum.