Cruise Line Hopes to Attract Young Travelers with Chance to Do Good
The world’s largest cruise ship operator has a new plan to fill the staterooms on its ever-growing list of cruise ships.
How? By turning the typical cruise experience from the consumer-centric and hedonistic into a tour to help the needy.
The new effort from Carnival Cruise Lines, dubbed Fathom, will run service-based seven-day trips from Miami to the Dominican Republic starting in April 2016.
Carnival chief executive Arnold Donald said in a statement that Fathom gives travelers and local residents a chance to “learn and benefit from the opportunity to serve together.”
For a company whose product line skews to the older demographic (the median age of cruise passengers is 49, according to the Cruise Lines International Association), the move toward “social impact travel” as the company calls it, could be a shot at attracting a younger, elusive clientele.
Ticket prices start at $1,540 per passenger. Once the ship has docked, groups of 10 to 30 tourists will disembark to work on local humanitarian projects instead of hitting tourist shops and restaurants.
Tourists choose their “social impact” activities, ranging from teaching English at Dominican grade schools and working on a sustainable cacao farm to creating clean water filters.
“We’ll help a whole region flourish, versus one little church or one little school,” newly appointed Fathom director Tara Russell told The Wall Street Journal.
But the do-good move is seen by some as a diversion to shift attention away from the industry’s recent accidents, health code incidents, and environmental troubles.
“It’s a nice thing they’re doing, trying to bring better cruise options to customers,” said Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director at environmental group Friends of the Earth. “But we wish they were doing a better job of updating their ships so they’re not harming the environment.”
On Friends of the Earth’s 2014 Cruise Ships Report Card, Carnival Cruises and its 24-ship fleet earned an F in sewage treatment, with only two of its ships having advanced sewage treatment systems. For air quality, the company received a D, as a majority of its ships lack the ability to plug into dockside electrical grids and instead burn dirty diesel fuel to keep the lights and air conditioning on.
“They paid all of this money on a Super Bowl ad this year—they need to be putting that into upgrading their ships,” Keever said.
In 2013, Carnival Corp. reached an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to spend $180 million on pollution control equipment for 32 of its ships.
For the new Fathom line, Carnival will be repurposing its 710-passenger vessel Adonia to make the trips to the Dominican Republic. According to Friends of the Earth, that ship received an A in sewage treatment but an F in air pollution.
“That’s hopefully something that they improve, because bringing that ship into an impoverished area and dirtying up the air is not really the kind of work you want to be associated with,” Keever said.