I didn’t trust Carnival for a second that it really wanted to build a sustainable business relationship with the Dominican Republic through its "voluntourism" brand, "fathom" (not capitalized). I expressed my doubts here.

Hiring pseudo-sustainability expert and faux-celebrity Tara Russell to market the brand seemed as un-authentic as the "workers" who posed in the new cruise brand’s advertising photos. Next to the poor Dominican farmers standing in the photos, the "fathom" crew looked more like United-Colors-of-Benetton Fathom Cruise Brandmodels who got lost during a South Beach photo-shoot.  

Well the truth is out. Carnival’s much ballyhooed new social travel brand "fathom" will operate to Cuba next year after Carnival won the right to start doing business in that country. The catch was that Carnival couldn’t just detour a crowd on the Triumph swigging buckets of Bud Lights to Havana; it had comply with strict "U.S. Department of Treasury rules that allow licensed travel companies to transport approved travelers to Cuba to engage in activities that support the Cuban people," says Travel Weekly.

It seems like this was Arnold Donald’s plan all along. Mr. Donald was using all of the right words in the announcement today: "We look forward to working with the Cuban authorities for their approval to help make the social, cultural and humanitarian exchanges between US citizens and the people of Cuba a reality."

But Cuba is no Dominican Republic whose claim to fame is, well, that it is not as poor as Haiti and that it could actually use volunteers.  Cuba, on the other hand, will become the economic powerhouse of the Caribbean, to the detriment of Nassau and all other cruise ports in the region. So the Adonia will be one of the first cruise ships to officially enter the former communist island from the U.S. Carnival will use the fare-paying, feel-good cruise tourists to subsidize the soon-to-be-highly-profitable enterprise.  Yes, Carnival’s CEO Donald is a genius. Tricky but a genius.    

Was Ms. Russell in on the switch-a-roo from the start? Was she part of the cruise team lobbying Washington for the Cuba gig? The Adonia will still sail to the Dominican Republic for a while it seems (but it will doubtlessly be phased out as people will prefer Havana). But anyway, Ms. Russell is happily singing the corporate cruise gobbledygook: “Our goal remains the same for both destinations – to enable travelers to immerse, learn, serve and flourish while making enduring, sustainable contributions on a scalable and systematic basis."

Yeah, right.  

January 8 2016 Update:  It doesn’t seem that Mr. Donald ever lost his home as a child to Fidel Castro

April 10, 2016 Update:  Carnival chooses profits over principle; plans to sail its Fathom brand to Cuba without Cuban Americans.

Photo Credit: Carnival / fathom

  • So pleased to have just found you – perhaps you would share the below – the questions I asked fathom and thier response – about their “social impact” trips. Perhaps you could ask these questions again and getter more transparent answers?
    “”CARNIVAL to offer volunteer-centric cruise line that brings do-gooders to the Dominican Republic”
    I don’t want to be a party pooper – I applaud a cruise company that enables and encourages its clients to engage with the local communities they visit BUT this raises so manyquestions – here are some not in order of importance but in the order I scanned the site.

    1. is this the right language to be using for people who will be on the ground a maximum of 3 days “put yourself in the role of an aid worker to improve access to clean water.

    2. there is the capacity for 710 passangers – have risk analyses of impact on “villages been done? “in the nearby villages, is where you’ll put your skills, your passions, and your shipboard orientation and training to good use.

    3.How will the “teaching” be monitored – is there a tight curriculum to work with – who is ensuring this will not be disruptive to the school day – is this being done under the supervision of local teachers “you’ll have the opportunity to work with students and other community members to help them improve their English skills in small-group conversational settings. ”

    4. have all the individuals who will come into contact with children been police checked? what risk assessments have been done re subjecting children to a constant stream of visitors (strangers)

    5. Are there child protection policies

    6 how much and define partners? “Initial fathom pricing will be from $1,540 per person for an ocean-view cabin, with a portion of the money going to partner organizations in the Dominican Republic.”

    6.what effective economic impact can be achieved in 3 days “One local women’s cooperative is actively involved in the cultivation of organic chocolate (cacao) plants, and another group has formed an association to create marketable arts and crafts from recycled paper. fathom travelers can have a positive, hands-on impact on both programs.”

    7.STOP PRESS! its not 3 days!!!! It could be even less “you will be able to create your own schedule and will have the flexibility on a daily basis to choose from a variety of options, including opportunities to learn about the local culture, spend time with a local family, hike the coastline, or enjoy the many beaches.”

    and this just after a quick speed read of the fathom.org site

    Fathoms response
    “Hi Sallie, thanks for engaging with us and sharing your questions.

    As we draw nearer to our maiden voyage next April, we will have more details available. Much of this information will be detailed to our confirmed travelers, who will also receive thorough education and preparation measures while on the ship. We take the security of both our travelers and the local community members very seriously, and we are building out these policies now, as we continue to develop all of the details for the impact activities.


  • thank you

  • John Goldsmith

    At this moment, I am not sure if the “fathom” experiment will work. The softer side of me really hopes that the benefit to the visited communities will be substantial. I have in the past and will in the future donate funds to agencies that spend time in areas that do not see a great deal of tourist. I have friends who travel every year to places where they have fostered children and while they are at the sites, the folks they are aiding are very appreciative.

    The cynic side of me says that ANY corporation that is doing this sort of thing is doing it to improve their bottom line. I can live with that as long as the end result for wherever they go is measurable to the benefits to the communities involved.
    For the sake of all concerned, I hope nothing goes wrong.

  • Tim

    How bout ask this question:
    Do You Think we are FUCKING STUPID?