Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tourists Don't Let Earthquake in Haiti Stop Them from Vacationing in the Devastation

Urban Chameleon news

Royal Caribbean's decision to dock ships at Haitian resort creates controversy

By now, most of us have seen and heard about the profound devastation and suffering wrought upon Haiti last week after a massive earthquake. So you'd probably think there's no way that cruising tourists could have returned to frolicking on Haiti's beaches mere miles from where people are trapped beneath the rubble of a decimated city. Unfortunately, you'd be wrong.

On Sunday, the Guardian reported that Florida-based Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines is docking ships at the "picturesque wooded peninsula" known as Labadee, which it leases on Haiti's northern coast. At Labadee, passengers "enjoy jetski rides, parasailing, and rum cocktails delivered to their hammocks." The British paper also reported that passengers can spend their time "shopping for trinkets at a craft market" while armed guards stand at the entry to the complex to guarantee their safety.

Despite the fact that the ships have delivered relief supplies to the island, some passengers on the ships are reportedly "sickened" over the decision to dock there. One passenger took to an Internet message board to protest the idea of vacationing where "tens of thousands of dead people are being piled up on the streets, with the survivors stunned and looking for food and water."

When Royal Caribbean announced its decision to resume stops at Labadee last week, a company executive cited the economic importance of the resort to the local citizens as well as the opportunity to deliver much-needed supplies.

"We also have tremendous opportunities to use our ships as transport vessels for relief supplies and personnel to Haiti," said associate vice president John Weis. "Simply put, we cannot abandon Haiti now that they need us most."

Still, Royal Caribbean, which recently raised eyebrows when it announced that it's organizing a "cougar cruise" for older single women, has been catching heat from all corners on their decision, prompting company CEO Adam Goldstein to post a defense of the company on their website. Saying that he is "proud of what our people and our ships are doing," Goldstein writes:
The ships going back to Labadee, including Navigator of the Seas today, are obviously making a very valuable contribution to the relief effort by offloading supplies at Labadee. The media understand this and generally have written and spoken about the relief effort in positive terms. But in the last 24 hours, sparked by an article in the Guardian in the UK, a different and more critical view has emerged that questions how our guests can justify having a good time in Labadee when there is such misery less than 100 miles away.
My view is this - it isn't better to replace a visit to Labadee (or for that matter, to stay on the ship while it's docked in Labadee) with a visit to another destination for a vacation. Why? Because being on the island and generating economic activity for the straw market vendors, the hair-braiders and our 230 employees helps with relief while being somewhere else does not help. These 500 people are going to need to support a much larger network of family and friends, including many who are in (or are missing in) the earthquake zone. Also, the north is going to bear a good part of the burden of the agony of the south, and the more economic support there is to the north, the better able the north will be to bear this burden. People enjoying themselves is what we do. People enjoying themselves in Labadee helps with relief. We support our guests who choose to help in this way which is consistent with our nearly 30 year history in Haiti.
- Brett Michael Dykes is a contributor to the Yahoo! News blog