ORLANDO (Reuters) - Carnival Corp will tap into the volunteer tourism market with week-long trips beginning in 2016 that include up to three days of organized humanitarian work in the Dominican Republic, the company announced on Thursday.
Carnival forecasts its new “fathom” cruises will attract Americans eager for what it calls "social impact" vacations, also known as voluntourism, that offer hands-on help.
“They’ve maybe written a lot of checks in the past and are tired of writing a check to do good. They want to do something more and yet they don’t really know where to begin,” said Tara Russell, president of the new cruise brand.
Prices for the trips that depart biweekly from the Port of Miami start at $1,540 per person, including the cost of volunteer supplies, according to a company press release.
Rather than the casino gambling or Broadway-style shows popular on mega ships, passengers on the 710-passenger ship, Adonia, will be offered training and education in preparation for their volunteer work, the press release said.
Carnival expects 40 percent of the passengers to be first-timers who could turn into repeat customers, the press release added.
Gawain Kripke, policy director for Oxfam America, a nonprofit relief organization based in Boston, questioned the benefit of the for-profit venture. He said short-term volunteers can be personally moved by the experience, but typically perform low value work.
“There is someone, a shareholder or management or an owner, who is literally making profit out of this humanitarian, altruistic motive on the part of everybody else involved. The optics aren’t that great,” Kripke said.
Russell said the cruise line worked with Dominican social service agencies to design a program that enables participants to do productive work with little preparation and time on the ground.
During three days in the Puerto Plata region, travelers will be able help cultivate cacao plants and organic fertilizer at a women’s cooperative, work with English-language learners, or help in the production of clay water filters.
They also have the option of spending some or all of the time on typical tourist excursions from Amber Cove, the new $85 million Dominican cruise center being developed by Carnival and the Rannik family of Grupo B&R and set to open in October.
Ross Klein, a social work professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland who runs the cruisejunkie.com consumer website, said travelers could be put off by the price, which is significantly more than the posted prices on other Carnival week-long Caribbean cruises in the $300 to $400 range.
(This version of the story corrects the dateline to Orlando, not Miami, and corrects reporting credit.)
Editing by Andre Grenon