Have you heard about that new cruise line that is focusing on voluntourism? Yes, I'm serious. You book a cruise vacation with the idea that you will spend your time volunteering to help improve a community abroad.
Carnival Corp. launched a new cruise brand called Fathom last week.
The world's largest cruise company's 10th line starts with one ship that will sail weeklong voyages to the Dominican Republic beginning in April 2016. Passengers will pay about $1,600 to travel to Carnival's new port in the D.R., Amber Cove, and volunteer for projects alongside fathom organizers and local groups to teach English or organic cacao farming, for example.
1. The Fathom experience focuses on education, environment and economic development. The Dominican Republic is a wonderful country with friendly people (I have visited once) and can use the assistance because a large percentage (about one-third) of the population lives in poverty.
2. It can't be a coincidence that Carnival Corp. is set to open a big new cruise port area in the Puerto Plata region at nearly the same time as launching this brand. Amber Cove will receive many other ships from the Carnival family, and the company's launching of the Fathom line in the D.R. is a fantastic way to show it's committed to giving something back to the community. Good P.R. is part of any sound business plan.
3. The Fathom ship is the 710-passenger MV Adonia, which is redeployed from Carnival's P&O line. Carnival is trying for a stroke of genius in repurposing its older, smaller vessels for Fathom (if the concept proves to be a sustainable and growing travel segment) instead of scrapping the ships or selling them to competitors.
4. I can see how teaching English to residents can fairly efficiently work as part of the project. But I am not quite sure how the other projects can be effective with a constant turnover of tourists arriving for three and a half days of on-the-ground work. The Fathom team and local groups in place the entire time can build a bond with the residents (farmers and others getting benefits from the program), but I wouldn't think that passenger groups that pop in and out weekly can build that bond that leads to the best social impact.
5. Can we expect these same cruisers to be expert enough to do little more than provide free manual labor on some projects? Please don't let us start to see Instagram and Facebook feeds full of selfies of travelers planting a cacao plant and expect us to call this "social impact travel."
6. Carnival deserves much credit for leading the way in this concept. While it remains to be seen how effective some of the programs can be, they are definitely well worth the effort.
7. If the person picked to lead Fathom believes this will work, we should take it seriously. Tara Russell, Fathom president, most recently founded and was CEO of Create Common Good, a nonprofit that provides food-service job training. She has a track record in the social impact field and a passion to make this work. "We created Fathom to meet the real hunger in the world for purpose, while at the same time tackling profound social issues through a sustainable business model," Russell said.
8. Carnival says it wants to make money with Fathom and that it's important to be profitable so that the programs can be ongoing and not disappear after a short period -- which would fail to make a lasting positive impact on the communities in which they would target to help.
9. Fathom expects its passengers to fit in these categories:
- Millennials in their 20s and 30s looking to make a difference in the world;
- Parents seeking a way to open their children's eyes to other parts of the world in a meaningful way (approximately half of travelers are expected to be families); and
- Adults 50 and older eager to find rewarding ways to help other people apart from writing a check
11. A portion of each cruise fare is slated to go to Fathom partner organizations to cover on-the-ground activities in the Dominican Republic, including supplies, travel, personnel to assist with the activities and funding to support the partner organizations' overall missions.
12. Fathom trips can be booked now online (fathom.org), and the first cruise is set to sail April 10, 2016, from Miami.
What do you think about Carnival Corp.'s new cruise line, Fathom? What are limitations or positive impacts that you see in this type of "social impact travel?"
Thanks for reading. Travel fit! Travel happy! Travel often!