Fine Line between CSR and Bad Taste: Royal Caribbean returns to Haiti

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti has been a horrific humanitarian tragedy.  The loss of life and property destruction are devastating to a country that has endured an endless stream of suffering.  Haiti is in the Caribbean and tourism is a major industry in that area.  Though not the most popular tourist destination in the area, Haiti does receive tourism from cruise ships.  Tourists come ashore and but souvenirs from locals.  Haitians also work on the cruise ship and provide recreation for visitors such as jet skies. 

Royal Caribbean cruise lines returned to Haiti on January 15, 2010.  The cruise ship docks at Labadee, a private resort about 100 miles from the earthquake zone and removed from the damage and suffering.  There have been mixed reactions to Royal Caribbean’s early return to Haiti.  Here is how the statement made by CEO Adam Goldstein:

I am proud of what our people and our ships are doing and below John Weis gives some very specific examples of great contributions being made by great Royal Caribbean people and their family members

The ships going back to Labadee, including Navigator of the Seas today, are obviously making a very valuable contribution to the relief effort by offloading supplies at Labadee. The media understand this and generally have written and spoken about the relief effort in positive terms. But in the last 24 hours, sparked by an article in the Guardian in the UK, a different and more critical view has emerged that questions how our guests can justify having a good time in Labadee when there is such misery less than 100 miles away.

My view is this — it isn’t better to replace a visit to Labadee (or for that matter, to stay on the ship while it’s docked in Labadee) with a visit to another destination for a vacation. Why? Because being on the island and generating economic activity for the straw market vendors, the hair-braiders and our 230 employees helps with relief while being somewhere else does not help. These 500 people are going to need to support a much larger network of family and friends, including many who are in (or are missing in) the earthquake zone. Also, the north is going to bear a good part of the burden of the agony of the south, and the more economic support there is to the north, the better able the north will be to bear this burden. People enjoying themselves is what we do. People enjoying themselves in Labadee helps with relief. We support our guests who choose to help in this way which is consistent with our nearly 30 year history in Haiti.”

Goldstein argues that Royal Caribbean is motivated by social concern (CSR) not profit in this case.  The ship is carrying relief supplies to Haiti.  You can go online and watch the supplies being loading in Miami.  So the ship has to dock in Haiti to unload the supplies. By allowing visitors to go ashore, Royal Caribbean aids the economy of Haiti through sales and employment.  Royal Caribbean could easily have replaced the Labadee stop with another more desirable location.  Online, some people on board noted they were not happy stopping in an area when so much suffering continued.  Here are two select comments: 

“I agree with them bringing in relief efforts, but not sure any visitors are warranted in Haiti right now,” Cruise Log reader elitetravel says in a Cruise Log post. “I can’t imagine sitting on the beach, drinking a margarita and laughing it up while people are suffering so much in that country.” Writes another Cruise Log reader, PamelaMurphy: “I am scheduled to be on a cruise starting Jan. 31 that is stopping in Labadee, (and) I feel I do not want to be there nor do I belong there at this time … Haiti is now a land suffering from death and destruction of a huge magnitude.”

The point is that going to Haiti is not a sales point for Royal Caribbean.  In fact, you could argue that it is a liability.  The media and online reaction has been mixed.  The Web site CruiseCritic  (  is tracking the discussion among their cruise-interested visitors. (  The non-scientific poll at the site is running in favor of Royal Caribbean’s actions.  In the U.S., 4,478 people responded with the following mix of poll responses:

Should ships have returned to Labadee so soon?
  Yes, Haiti needs the money.:     37.23%
  Yes, they’re bringing aid!:          27.71%
  No, it’s in poor taste.:                 20.68%
  I’m on the fence.:                        14.25%


Questions to Consider                              

  1.  What advice would you have given Royal Caribbean management on this issue and why?
  2. What are the ethical implications in this action?
  3. How effective would you rate Royal Caribbean’s rationale for the action and why?
  4. What else could Royal Caribbean do to communicate its reasons for returning to Haiti to its stakeholders?
  5. Why is this a risky form of CSR?
  6. What might be the long term benefits to Royal Caribbean for these action?  Long term costs?

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