Royal Caribbean "Returns" to its Trademarked, Private Fantasy Island of Labadee® - While Haiti Suffers

Following the devastation and destruction of Port of Prince, Royal Caribbean faced the potential public relations nightmare of sailing its mega cruise ships into its private resort of Labadee with Haiti - Earthquake - Poverty - Sufferingthousands of affluent Americans partying and gorging themselves while over 100,000 Haitians lay dead and decaying in the streets and millions more already impoverished Haitians face hunger and hopelessness.     

The Guardian newspaper in the U.K. reported that Royal Caribbean's decision to go ahead with scheduled cruises into Labadee "divided passengers." One passenger commented on the popular Cruise Critic forum that he was "sickened" by the thought of frolicking in the Haitian port while other suffered:

"I just can't see myself sunning on the beach, playing in the water, eating a barbecue, and enjoying a cocktail while [in Port-au-Prince] there are tens of thousands of dead people being piled up on the streets, with the survivors stunned and looking for food and water . . .  It was hard enough to sit and eat a picnic lunch at Labadee before the quake, knowing how many Haitians were starving," said another. "I can't imagine having to choke down a burger there now.''

Another article "Cruise Ship Docks at Private Beach in Haiti for Barbeque and Water Sports" debates the appropriateness of all of this. The comments range from pointing out the "grotesqueness" of the spectacle of thousands of partying Americans in an idyllic beach to the nonchalant attitude - "life goes on . . . and as always, life is for the living."

There has always been an uneasy disconnect between the opulence of a cruise ship like Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas and a country as desperately impoverished as Haiti with a poverty rate of around 80 to 85 %.  Most Haitians are forced to survive on less than $2 a day.  The U.S. passengers on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, on the other hand, spend more for the Labadee - Haiti - Inside the fence - isolated from povertycruise, drinks, casino chips, and excursions than most Haitians will see for decades.  In addition to the Independence, Royal Caribbean's Navigator, Freedom, Enchantment and Liberty of the Seas, as well as its subsidiary Celebrity Cruises' Solstice, will all call on Labadee this year. 

The disparity between the haves and the have-nots will become even more pronounced as the $1,400,000,000 (billion) Oasis of the Seas, which visited Labadee in December last year, will begin arriving every other week in Labadee starting in May.

The executives at Royal Caribbean know how to make a hard bargain with Caribbean islands which have little economic bargaining power. CEO Richard Fain cut a deal where for only $6 a passenger (paid by the passenger), Haiti turned over a 260 acre tropical waterfront paradise of Haitian sovereign land for Royal Caribbean to consider it "private property" bearing the trademarked name "Labadee®." Yes, that's right.  This is a name that Royal Caribbean trademarked  as a variation of the French slave owner Marquis de La'Badie who settled in Haiti in the 1600's.

Many years ago an article revealed the hypocrisy of this whole endeavor.  Entitled "Fantasy Island:  Royal Carribean Parcels Off a Piece of Haiti," the article explained that Royal Caribbean began docking in Haiti in January 1986 after the ruthless dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier leased the land to Royal Caribbean.  He thereafter fled to France and the country turned into chaos for the next decade. 

Cruise Ship - Party - Eat, Drink and Be MerryRoyal Caribbean's timing was perfect.

The article continues: "plagued by a ravaged economy, residual political unrest, and 7,000 unemployed soldiers, the Haitian government was willing to bargain . . . Royal Caribbean got dirt-cheap entry, minimal regulation, and tactful silence."  The Haitian government earns less than $30,000 a week from the Royal Caribbean cruise ships, but, as Haiti's minister of tourism said: "we need to start somewhere."  Haiti was desperate. Royal Caribbean was Haiti's only choice.

Many argue that for the past many years, Royal Caribbean has not promoted or invested in Haiti.  Instead, as the article explains, it "exploited an acquiescent government and dictated its own terms of entry."  Its plan was to sell U.S. customers on an imaginary paradise.

Travel agents took the cue from Royal Caribbean and marketed the port as a "private island."  The fact that it was no island at all, but part of the mainland of Haiti, didn't bother the travel agents or the cruise line.  And it worked.  Consider a cruise review a couple of years ago:

One of the best Private Island experiences you could ever wish for! Labadee has four beaches and facilities for lots of people! Labadee is owned and operated by Royal Caribbean for the exclusive use of it's own passengers only . . .  Royal Caribbean maintains a nice lunch area on the island.  Here you can graze at your heart's content,  The cuisine was hamburgers, hot dogs, Haiti - Earthquake - Disasterchicken, ribs, various salads, and deserts. No charge. It's all included in the cost of your cruise!

Even last week, the Miami Herald ran a headline, cluelessly referring to Royal Caribbean returning to the "island" of Labadee. But the pretense of an island is only half of the illusion. Not only did Royal Caribbean fail to promote Haiti, it didn't even refer to Labadee as being in Haiti.  Rather it referred to Labadee as part of Hispaniola (the island comprising the Dominican Republic and Haiti) to try and keep the image of Haiti's poverty, violence, and civil unrest away from its customers.  

Labadee might as well be an island, considering that Royal Caribbean hires armed guards to patrol the 10-12 foot fences which isolate the Haitians from the cruise line's "private island."  Royal Caribbean keeps the locals away from its passengers who are "happily ensconced on the shores of paradise" with no idea that just over the walls are shanty-towns, sweat shops, and hungry and impoverished Haitians. The money spent in the private paradise of Labadee doesn't spread far beyond the fences. The article points out that all of the food, drinks, and even the tropical fruits and vegetables all come from Miami.

So now after isolating itself physically, financially and figuratively from Haiti for the past 20 years, Royal Caribbean is trying to justify not disrupting its business while not seeming indifferent to a country it has been indifferent to for 20 years. It just spent big bucks ($50,000,000) building a new wharf - one of the few locations which can handle the new mega ship Oasis of the Seas - as well as the world's longest zip line and an alpine coaster.  Royal Caribbean is banking on bringing the Oasis' 6,000 captive passengers onto that new wharf and charging them for the new zip line ($65), or wave runners ($80) or para-sailing, etc.      

In the last few days, Royal Caribbean has made a big deal talking about offloading pallets of food for Haiti. Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas sailed with only 60 cases of food and water  last Friday according to the Royal Caribbean President's "Nation of Why Not?" blog. That's just four pallets. The blog has some photographs of the few pallets from the Independence of the Seas - four pallets of flour, tomato sauce, can goods, and water bottles. Four pallets?  Considering that on a typical seven-day cruise Labadee - Haiti - Royal Caribbean "Private Destination"the cruise ship's passengers consume over 100,000 pounds of food and 12,000 gallons of alcohol over the course of over a hundred thousand meals- the photograph of the meager provisions sitting on the dock dwarfed by the huge Independence of the Seas seems like a sick joke. 

Subsequent articles mention that other cruises have included up to 40 pallets of food, photographs of which no one has seen, but if true this still is a pittance given the enormous needs of the Haitian people and the huge capabilities of Royal Caribbean's cruise ships. 

Supporters of the cruise line point out that Royal Caribbean also pledged to donate a million dollars to Haiti over an unspecified period of time.  It talks about using the net profits collected from the passenger's monies spent in Labadee.  Whether this occurs over the course of 6 months or a year remains to be seen.  Now a million dollars is a lot of money to me and probably anyone reading this article, but it is peanuts for a cruise line like Royal Caribbean. 

Royal Caribbean collects around $6,000,000,000 (billion) a year.  And because it registered its business in Liberia and its cruise ships fly the foreign flags of Liberia or the Bahamas, it pays $0 in federal Income taxes. $0.     

Why only a million dollars?  That will accomplish little. Even Royal Caribbean's competitor Carnival promised to send $5 million to Haiti, and it has no relationship with Haiti.  The $6 a passenger deal which Royal Caribbean struck with the leaders of Haiti rips the Haitian people off.  $6 to go into a 260 acre private paradise?  Well established ports in Alaska collect $50 a passenger in head taxes just to step off of the cruise ship. 

Americans are generous people. For the next two years, Haiti should receive $100 a passenger.   With 6,000 passengers from the Oasis of the Seas alone coming into Labadee a week, the country could receive $600,000 a week Richard Fain - President Clinton - Adam Goldstein - Labadee - Before Disasterrather than the current pittance of $30,000.  Each  passenger can pay $50 and the cruise line can pay the other $50.

If the cruise line can collect $65 for a 2 minute zip line in Labadee for fun, it can sure as hell can pay $50 a passenger to Haiti to deal with the humanitarian crisis unfolding before its eyes.

$600,000 a week could begin accomplish something.

But instead the cruise line is talking peanuts.  And its PR people have created the illusion that the Royal Caribbean executives are in Haiti walking the streets and helping the people.  

Royal Caribbean's website shows a photograph of CEO Fain and President Goldstein (above) walking with President Clinton with the mountains of Haiti in the background, next to headlines:

"HUMANITARIAN AID TO HAITI."  

The photograph looks impressive; any photo shoot with a President is worth hanging on your wall.  But neither Mr. Fain nor Mr. Goldstein have traveled to Haiti since the disaster.  And the photograph has nothing to do with humanitarian aid.  It was actually taken last year before the earthquake when President Clinton was visiting Haiti on an official visit as the United Nations special envoy. 

This U.N. trip was covered by Jason Maloney, of the Pulitzer Center, who ironically enough commented on Royal Caribbean's historical reluctance to support or even acknowledge Haiti. The center explained that there are "political sensitivities surrounding the ownership of the resort."  It called Royal Caribbean Pulitzer Center - Labadee - Haiti - Richard Fain - President Clinton - Adam Goldstein - Before Earthquakeout on its claim that Labadee is a “private beach destination” or the company’s “private island.”  It also ran a photograph (left) of CEO Fain, President Clinton, and Royal Caribbean President Goldstein (in baseball cap and shorts) when Clinton was visiting the cruise line's "private destination." 

It seems rather shameful for Royal Caribbean to pull out a photo which has nothing to do with the "humanitarian" crisis for its own PR purposes.

Royal Caribbean has a net worth of $15,000,000,000.  It has a (tax free) annual income almost twice greater than Haiti's gross national product. 

So in this context - Royal Caribbean's highly publicized pledge of a a measly one million dollars, random pallets of food and water, and a misleading photograph of the cruise line executives with an ex-President are - - - pitiful. 

Royal Caribbean is proposing nothing meaningful to address the profound problems of this impoverished and exploited country.   

 

To help Haiti, text HAITI and a donation of $10 will go to the Red Cross.  As of this posting, Americans have donated over $19 million via texting for Haiti.  

 For other articles on this issue:

South Florida Business Journal (Kevin Gale)

The Guardian "The Haves & Have Nots in Haiti" (Gwyn Topam)

Sphere "Vacationing in Hell: Cruise Ships Land in Haiti" (Dave Thier)

"Cruise Ships in Haiti and Misdirected Moral Outrage" @thethirdestate

 

 Credits:

Haiti - earthquake     AP (via Mail OnLine)

Royal Caribbean cruise ship        thewe.cc 

Haiti - earthquake                             @CarelPedre via @Mashable

Independence of the Seas                 "Nation of Why Not?" blog

Royal Caribbean executives (top)       Royal Caribbean's website

Royal Caribbean executives (bottom)     Pulitzer Center

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Comments (13) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Janet Huggard - January 18, 2010 9:05 PM

Very well researched and written article, Jim. I couldn't have added anything more myself. I would like to make one point though.

There are comments around the web by passengers who think the idea of lounging on the backside of Hispanola, aka the RCI private island, while on the front side as many as 200,000 people are dying or dead and decaying was simply a disgusting and unacceptable idea to them. It made all Americans look bad, as we all know that cruise ship was full of Americans.

The option of not taking this cruise, given RCI didn't have the good sense to call elsewhere, was never given to passengers. Passsengers aboard were trapped into taking the cruise or losing their money. The only real option they had was to stay aboard the ship at the call and nurse their feelings of guilt.

Ohio Real Estate - January 19, 2010 9:16 AM

I couldn't imagine being on that cruise. While most destinations on a cruise lead to a poor country/island and there are sad scenes and situations within a mile of the white sand beaches, this is a particular devestation. I don't think there's ever been a tragedy as awful as the Haiti earthquake.

While I understand they were booked for the cruise and didn't have much choice, the four little pallets seem to be a slap in the face considering how much is on that ship or could have been.

I would have insisted that the cruise director do more, leave more, ask the passengers to give up more in order to put more on the dock.

It's all just so sad and God awful. This sheds a little light on some aspects of variable human nature. Regardless of year, time or trouble, some have and some have not. Some care to see it and help while some turn a blind eye.

Right now Haitians are buying/looting Vodka and hacksaws to perform amputations to save lives...

Faraz - January 19, 2010 11:04 AM

Good post Jim. Completely agree that cruiselines can and should do much more.

One simple idea is to organize volunteer excursions in Haiti. Passengers can spend the day volunteering their time rebuilding Haiti. Win win win for Haiti, cruiselines and the passengers.

I posted more about the idea here - http://meetoncruise.com/blog/?p=32

Thoughts?

Jeff Stone - January 19, 2010 1:36 PM

Folks having a good time has not caused any distress in Haiti.

However, folks coming to Haiti and supporting an economy, perhaps creating jobs, is what Haiti needs to put an and to the dependence upon outside help which will only keep Haiti in poverty.

John - January 19, 2010 2:08 PM

Jim, thanks for setting the record straight! RCCL is the WORST example of a quasi-U.S. based corporation that one can imagine.

What will they do when a percentage of the 1.5 million displaced Haitians make their way over to Labadee and discover a Gilligan's Island paradise? Many don't even know the place exists, however, when they figure out there's food, water and tourists sunning on their beaches, what will RCCL do? How do you stop hundreds or thousands from storming the beach? The answer is, you can't, no matter how many armed guards you put along your fence line.

RCCL literally got this piece of property for nothing and continues to exploit the land for their own use and profit. What are they paying the 300 employees in Labadee? About as much as they pay their third world country on-board staff.

They gave $1M as a donation? Get over it RCCL, you've made billions and the only reason you'll hand over $1M and the port tax back to Haiti during this time is that for you take your ships anywhere else in the region would cost you 7 to 8 times as much as it does for you drop them off in Haiti. Haiti was and is nothing more than a FREEBIE for RCCL to soak up the last few extra bucks they can from their PAX before it's time to go home.

What I find ASTOUNDING is that some idiot at the U.N. Envoy office actually encourage (and gave the Green light) to RCCL to start landing PAX in Labadee? Is there NOT one ounce of respect for your own people and for your dead? Can you NOT see how RCCL is exploting your people and your land? It's one thing for RCCL to NOT do the right thing (they're use to that) how about the U.N. Envoy? What in the world was he/she thinking?

Since RCCL won't do the right thing, the Haitian Government should by banning RCCL ship's from their shores and tearing up the lease. Believe me, other cruise lines will pay you more and treat you like a REAL country, with REAL people, with REAL needs.

Mary Richards - January 20, 2010 2:40 PM

Is there no shame? No humanity?
If these cruise companies had one shred of compassion, if they could look at anything beyond their own greed,
they'd have cancelled these cruises and FULLY loaded each scheduled liner up with medical supplies, water and food, a helicopter and pilot and utilized their hired staff to assist in the unloading and deliveries.
That they honestly could believe the public would be satisifed that they have met their humanitarian obligations by adding some supplies to their cargo load, and donating cruise profits - but main business as usual - is incomprehensible! Shame on them! I still have enough faith in humanity to believe that those scheduled passengers would gladly take a refund or credit toward some future cruise while the liners utilized the ships to help the people of Haiti.

John - January 21, 2010 10:18 AM

I find it disturbing that the CEO's blog entitled nationofwhynot (how fitting a title) states that "there is no way for a person or a company to imagine the vastness of the tragedy or needs of the Haitian people". I think that if RCCL's CEO watched CNN for about 15 minutes, he'd get the complete picture of the "various perspectives" on the situation.

Goldstein posted the "sitrep" his company issues on January 20th. The sitrep is a report which is under the aegis of Gary Bald, Senior V.P. of Safety and Security.

In the first section entitled "Country Update", Number Four states:

"TRAVEL WARNINGS REMAIN IN EFFECT URGING U.S. CITIZENS TO AVOID TRAVEL TO HAITI."

Under the Labadee section of the same report it states:

1- Cap Haiten is seeing an increased number of people coming into town from PAP and surrounding area.

2- Security remains strong and no issues have been reported.

3- US Marines in Cap Haiten securing sea port and airport.

4- ALL features are operational for LB (Labadee) Call today.

It goes w/o saying (but, I will) that the first line of text states there's a WARNING for U.S. citizens to not travel to Haiti. How many U.S. citizens are on board RCCL ships and WHY is RCCL depositing pax in a region with such a warning?

It's like I stated yesterday, Labadee will become a refugee camp shortly as more and more Haitians head for the beach. What will see besides sunning tourists eating and drinking? They'll be met by U.S. Marines and/or armed guards (paid for by whom) and then what?

Goldstein's blog "NationofWhyNot", is a fitting title as the blog basically sends the message of "with all of the problems faced by Haiti, Why Not keep going to Haiti? The words "Why Not" Mr. CEO, are usually followed by Who Cares? Maybe you should re-think your public relations approach starting with the title of your blog.

Janet Huggard - January 22, 2010 3:19 AM

I would also like to point out one other fact. RCCL says they have been calling at Labadee for 30 years. That is nice. The people they employee are suppose to be from Labadee Village, a few miles away.

But, in 30 years, as concerned as they say they are for the well-being of the citizens of Labadee Village, those who live beyond the fenced-in private beach, have not had clean water to drink.

Why is it suddenly RCCL, and all their supporters are worried that people who live in a fishing village, with an unlimited supply of fish are going to starve, but have never to this day worried about the fact that these people bath in, urinate in and drink the same water while RCCL's beach has a water filtration plant?

When was the last time RCCL organized a clothing drive and took crates of clothing and shoes to Labadee Village for the children? When the called there at Christmas in any of those 30 years, did they deliver food and gifts for the kids of Labadee?

Cindi - January 31, 2010 2:42 PM

It seems as though most of the people sharing their comments here do not have all the facts straight.

1. The first ship to dock at Labadee after the quake was the Independence. Yes it did deliver only 4 pallets of supplies. But the ship was at sea when the quake happened so how was it suppose to deliver alot more. The supplies they had were loaded at the previous stop...San Juan. The ships that are docking since do in fact have the 40 or more pallets on board.

2. The option to take this particular cruise on the Independence that week was not even an option because it was a sea. Any following cruises had already been booked and it was too late to cancel since the date of sailing was too close to receive a refund. I guess you could drop out if you could afford to lose money.

3. ON the question of skipping Ladabee as a port. If RCCL did not include Ladabee in their itinerary the many Haitian people who work for RCCL there would not be paid nor would the many,many crafters who display their wares not receive much needed money from the tourists who shop. They are very happy to see the tourists. At least it is a piece of light in their now dismal lives.

4. Last point. I know for a fact that the Independence of the Seas, on their stop 3 days after the quake, raised over $50,000 from their passengers for relief efforts. I also know that the captain kept the passengers well informed of whether or not the ship would indeed continue to Labadee that first time. Finally, RCCL is committed to donating ALL proceeds from the aqua excursions (which are most of the excursions on the island) to relief efforts for the foreseeable future.

How do I know all these facts? I was one of the many passengers on the Independence on it's stop 3 days after the quake. I am very happy to hear about RCCL and the efforts they are making to bring supplies and funds to help the many people who have been affected by this disaster.

Nigel - January 31, 2010 3:50 PM

Interesting coverage of information overlooked by other media outlets.

Steven M. - August 3, 2010 8:40 PM

I was on the Oasis of the Seas last week. Our booking was made prior to the earthquake. It doesn't seem RCCL even cares what it's passengers see while in Labadee. I took photos of armed guards watching over the food at the BBQ area and my wife photographed Haitians going through the garbage looking for passenger left-overs after most passengers had left. After the Haitians saw my wife taking their pictures they started yelling at her and hid behind anything they could find not to be photographed. And in closing, any uneaten food that RCCL took onto the island, they most assuredly took back on board. If I had known that the Haitians would be going through the dumpsters looking fo food, I would have filled a trash can or two with hotdogs and hamburgers.

Mark - August 20, 2010 8:49 AM

It's sad what happened in Haiti, Royal Caribbean should not stop going there. Sure more supplies should be given but at least Royal Caribbean is giving.
For Royal Caribbean to stop going there would be
worse. The whole world could do more for Haiti.

Ed - July 10, 2012 3:22 PM

This is a rather one sided piece not describing the whole situation. First, all the people who are using Labadee are no different from all the people using the other side of the island's beaches every day in what is Dominican Republic. Or for that matter any different from anyone lounging anywhere in the Caribbean at the same time.

The photo you posted on the 6 pallets is not representative of what Royal and Celebrity have done. I have been there via their cruise ships when there were 100 pallets of stuff offloaded before any passenger were allowed to leave. And it took several trucks to haul away all of the goods. AND Royal and Celebrity ships do that every trip there.

The people complaining are people who have not been there and seen what Royal is doing. In addition, there are many, I think Royal said aver 100, people employed on that island spot and those people are earning wages that benefit the whole island. There is an extensive craft stand area there and people spend a lot of money for crafts every ship that docks.

So Royal is bringing supplies, employing Haitians, and providing income for over 100 people. And your comment about charging more for docking like Alaska is also incorrect because the fee for Alaska cruise ship was subsequently renegotiated and reduced to about $35 per person which is more appropriate since ships generally stop at about 4 or 5 Alaska ports each cruise; which amounts to about $6-7 per port.

You need to get more facts and post an update.

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