Socially responsible cruising is coming! Carnival Corp has recently announced plans for a new brand, to be named fathom, which will launch next year. Aimed at a growing market for "social impact travel" fathom will run cruises which combine a chance to visit a new part of the world with an opportunity to do some good there by volunteering.
CEO of Carnival Corporation Arnold Donald said in the official news release on June 4th: "fathom will cater to a growing market of consumers who want to have a positive impact on people's lives, and aren't always sure when to begin... Both our travelers and the local citizens will learn and benefit from the opportunity to serve together."
The fathom brand will be led by Tara Russell, founder and chairman of Create Common Good. She explains the concept as a way to meet the desire of many travelers for purpose and mission, whilst tackling some real social issues using the vast resources and assets of the world's largest travel and leisure company: "Because fathom will bring hundreds of travelers to a destination on a regular basis, (it) can achieve focused and holistic, collaborative contributions in a broad region of the country - allowing fathom travelers to make a collective, transformative impact that they know will extend far beyond their involvement. They will also know they played an important role in ensuring the region flourishes."
Where and When
Carnival's new standalone brand will commence operations in April 2016, with week-long voyages from Miami. P&O UK's 710-passenger vessel MV Adonia will be redeployed as part of the project. The first destination for the ship is the Dominican Republic, a country with spectacular natural beauty and also a lot of poverty and insufficient infrastructure - the average household income is around USD$6,000 per year, and more than two million members of the population have no access to piped water. Cruisers will form a steady influx of volunteers in the country to help with identified needs, and the company will also use proceeds from cruise fares to cover supplies and further funding for partner organisations.
Russell believes that fathom's style of social impact travel will appeal to millennials with a desire to make a difference, and to parents and families who want to offer their children a meaningful encounter with other parts of the world. Older adults who enjoy cruising may also be looking for a new challenge and a way of helping that goes beyond donating money.
In terms of partner organisations, fathom will be working primarily with two partners in the Puerto Plata region of the Dominican Republic: Entrena, and the Instituto Dominicano de Desarrollo Integral (IDDI). Both are well-established in the country.
How will fathom travelers help in the DR?
The three initial focuses for fathom in the Puerto Plata region will be economic development, education and the environment. Volunteering opportunities might include helping to cultivate plants, assisting local companies, working with Dominican teachers to improve English skills for both children and adults, and making and delivering clay water filters to families throughout the area.
To prepare passengers for the experience, fathom will run orientations, Spanish lessons, activity trainings and more during the two days spent at sea on the way to the destination. Travelers will be able to build their own schedules to participate in the areas which interest them most.
Beyond the social impact activities, fathom travelers will be able to experience the stunning Dominican Republic and visit sites of interest, as well as making use of the recreational activities for Carnival ships visiting Amer Cove and Puerto Plata. Menus and music onboard will be geographically inspired to cater better to cruisers who appreciate full cultural immersion.
Other ways cruisers are doing good
Cruising with a purpose isn't an entirely new concept, although fathom will be unique as a brand devoted entirely to social impact travel. Princess has a "cruising for a cause" initiative which dedicated sailings to select charitable causes, raising fund for organisations like U.S. veterans or the American Heart Association. Onboard fundraising events are incorporated into many cruises across a range of lines, and there are multiple ways in which the industry gives back financially.
Onshore volunteering is also an established if uncommon idea. Notably, Crystal Cruises has a "You Care. We Care" voluntourism program which offers hands-on volunteer efforts as shore excursions on the majority of its itineraries.
Recently, in our own waters, P&O's Pacific Dawn served as a relief vessel in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam, bringing food, water and other humanitarian cargo - the majority of which was donated by the cruise passengers who were happy to help rebuild a nation which had welcomed them so many times during their South Pacific holidays. The Pacific Pearl and Carnival Spirit also joined in the aid effort.
Outside of the cruise industry, volunteer travel is available in many forms and across the globe. Organisations like Habitat for Humanity have long been sending willing travelers to places where they can make a difference to their host community while experiencing a new place and culture.
Carnival's introduction of fathom is an exciting development for the global cruising market and we look forward to following the updates from fathom as it gets closer to launch! What do you think of "voluntourism" as a concept? Would you take the plunge and head to the Caribbean to cruise with fathom, or are holidays and volunteering best kept separate?