(Photo source: fathom)
Earlier this month, Carnival Cruise Line debuted its newest cruise, billed a "social impact travel experience." The new Carnival brand is called fathom, and the first ship under fathom will head off next year to the Dominican Republic to focus on "meaningful travel."
However, with phrases like "sustained impact," "global experience," and "lasting development" swirling around, what does this experience really mean, and is there any benefit to the local economy?
Living in Central America where cruises in general are a hot button for debate, the continued claims that cruises help the local economy, promote cultural awareness, and offer authentic experiences seem disingenuous at times.
The idea behind this impactful journey - Carnival is even saying they are not calling it a cruise - is to bring people to the Dominican Republic where they can participate in activities that will have a lasting impact on the communities there.
On board, you'll forego the casino and nightly live shows in favor of more educational entertainment. You'll learn basic Spanish and watch documentary films about daily life in the Dominican Republic. You'll discuss what impact your visit is intended to make and where the needs of the country are. Then, you'll receive "impact activity training" to learn more about how to apply your skills and talents - the example given by Carnival is learning about water shortages and you'll hit the ground as an aid worker to improve access to clean water.
Of course, there's still plenty of time for R&R on the cruise - lounge at the pool, get your daily workout in the gym, book a spa treatment, or just sit back and catch up on some reading.
Carnival's mission includes personal enrichment as well - these activities are planned to help you explore your own depths and grow as a person.
Once you arrive in the Dominican Republic, the ship stays docked in the same place for three days. You basically have three on-the-ground days to change the lives of people in the Dominican Republic.
That is where some are starting to question the real purpose of social impact travel and whether it is actually good for the community, or is the traveler the only one who walks away feeling they've made a difference?
Business Insider's Shane Ferro raised an important question to this first ever social impact travel experience,
"Imagine you are an English teacher in the DR. A mob of American tourists land in your classroom for a day to "have an impact experience." And then the next week, a new group. Does that actually help any students, or just create chaos?"
While this cruise is a one-time itinerary, there are discussions and plans of making this a dedicated business branch of Carnival under the fathom brand. They've already partnered with on-the-ground community development organizations as well.
Fathom's own website notes that 40% of the population in the Dominican Republic lives below the poverty line, and the average annual household income is less than $6,000. Add to that, more than three million residents don't even have access to piped water.
Take those statistics in contrast to the passengers of the fathom experience that are each paying over $1,500 to arrive on a luxury cruise ship just for the opportunity to work alongside the community and then return back home on the ship a more enlightened traveler. Is this the right route? Or would the $1,500 be better spent hopping on a cheap flight and investing some of that back into the community itself?
What are your thoughts? Do you see social impact travel as a way of the future for cruising? Or could this be something that causes more harm to the community rather than good? Would you consider booking this cruise?
Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.
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Erin is a travel and food writer who currently splits her time between the Netherlands and Belize. She's traveled to 60+ countries on 5 continents with a passion for culinary travel, luxury hotels, and all things Disney. Her writing has appeared in numerous online outlets including Gadling, BootsnAll, CNN, Art of Backpacking, TravBuddy, CBS, and more. She was the major author of Belize's official visitor magazine, Destination Belize 2013; wrote the official AFAR Guide to Belize; and is also AFAR Magazine's local Belize expert.. In addition to writing for other publications, Erin maintains several blogs, Our Tasty Travels, No Checked Bags, Pooh's Travels, and the brand new Caye To Belize. Follow Erin on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus.
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