By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
New cruise line is the first to make volunteering its main focus
A new cruise line that plans to pair volunteering with vacation cut its prices this week indicating, a sure sign they are not selling as well as anticipated, according to the Mirror. - photo by Daniel Lombardi
A new cruise line that plans to pair volunteering with vacation cut its prices this week, indicating a sure sign they are not selling as well as anticipated, according to the Mirror British tabloid.

Other critics of the "social impact" concept have questioned the ability of tourists to effectively conduct charity work.

The new cruise line, Fathom, from the Carnival Corp., has just one ship, the 704-guest Adonia, and it is set to sail from Miami to the Dominican Republic in April and to Cuba in May. It wont be the first cruise line to visit Cuba, but it will be the first social impact travel cruise, according to the Province newspaper out of British Columbia, Canada.

In addition to dropping the cheapest fare from $1,540 to $974, the cruise line has changed its marketing focus from volunteer work to part vacation and cultural experience.

Fathoms cruises are designed with specific cultural immersion experiences that might include a morning visiting local schools to learn about Cuban education followed by a discussion with teachers about the challenges they face. The afternoon might be spent touring cultural and historical sites.

At Fathom we are creating purpose-driven impact experiences for our travelers that will make a lasting difference in the lives and the communities in the Dominican Republic, said Tara Russell, president of Fathom. At the same time, we want our travelers to know there also are many opportunities for them to explore, unwind and recharge during their free time.

Some cruise lines do offer volunteer work as optional parts of their packages, but Fathom is the first to make volunteering its main focus which could have a big impact. According to the company, its cruises could result in as much as 200,000 volunteer hours from 18,000 passengers in the Dominican Republic over a year.

Fathom passengers will receive educational emails about their destination before they set sail and the first two days at sea will include Spanish lessons and cultural films, according to a recent profile by Fast Company magazine. At the end of the cruise, Fathom will continue to email passengers to keep them updated about the projects they worked on and about volunteer opportunities near their hometowns.

Fathoms new cruise evolved out of a larger movement known as voluntourism that has garnered extensive criticism for years and even spawned an anti-voluntourism movement to create parody videos on YouTube, according to the Guardian.

Fast Company also wrote that vacations and volunteering seemed to be an unlikely pairing and that some see the new cruise as more opportunism than altruism. When a company dons a cape and says it wants to save the world, a common response is an eye roll, wrote the magazine, especially if that company is Carnival Corp., a $16-billion-per-year cruising behemoth in an industry thats under frequent fire for its negative environmental and social impact.

One commenter on the Fast Company article laid out a number of questions that Fathom has yet to deal with. How many jobs for Dominicans will be taken by tourists? To what degree might this program contribute to dependency rather than capacity-building? Will locals be trained to sustain the projects performed by the voluntourists?

Fathoms harshest criticism has come from the Mirror. Fathom is now keen to stress that there will be opportunities for sightseeing and fun, wrote the Mirror, concluding a change in the cruise's marketing indicates that selling a work-filled vacation is no easy task.

A nonvolunteering cruise that stops in the Dominican Republic starts at $509 per person, but Fathom says that a portion of the ticket cost goes directly to the Fathoms local NGO partners.
Sign up for our E-Newsletters