Royal Caribbean spent $50 million developing Labadee, a beach resort about 60 miles from Haiti's capital. The cruise operator is one of Haiti's largest foreign investors, working with the government for more than three decades. Still, the Associated Press boils it all down to a question of morality:
Should vacationers relax and have fun with so much suffering elsewhere on the island? Or would it be worse to halt the port calls and deprive locals of what they earn from tourism?I think it was a local who really summed up the situation eloquently. Jameson Charitable, a 20-year-old guide who offers tours of the island, makes $15 every port of call. "Without this," Charitable told the Associated Press, motioning to the cruise ship, "we don't eat."
While news accounts disparage luxury liners only 100 miles from devastation I found myself annoyed at the portrayal of Royal Caribbean. Being a journalist myself, I saw it as irresponsible journalism to write stories as if cruisers were modern-day Marie Antoinettes and tourism equated to colonialism. Royal Caribbean's cruises are hardly exclusive and neither are their passengers all wealthy. A five-day cruise from Miami on the Navigator of the Seas -- with a stop at Labadee -- starts at $349 per person.
As a rule, I don't write about charitable donations, but I will make an exception in this case. Royal Caribbean, aside from developing and investing in Haiti, said it would donate at least $1 million in humanitarian aid and contribute all the company's net revenue from Labadee to the relief effort. Its cruise ships are also delivering supplies to Haiti.
Royal Caribbean has an interest in Haiti, so donating millions of dollars or being a cargo service to the island country is also beneficial for the company. I don't consider that moral or immoral, it's just the way things are. However, the idea that guilt has so paralyzed some people that they must berate others for spending tourist dollars in Haiti is unconscionable.
Staying away from Haiti and taking away what little economic stability tourism brought to the nation isn't the answer. A person can enjoy its beaches and beauty and still donate time and money to its people. There is no moral dilemma here except in some people's small minds.