January 20, 2010 / 1:59 AM / 9 years ago

Should cruise ships be taking tourists to Haiti?

NEW YORK, Jan 19 (Reuters Life) - As the world races to help Haiti, a cruise ship operator’s decision to resume its visits to the devastated Caribbean nation has sparked a heated debate on whether it is appropriate for tourists to return so soon.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. decided to continue to stop off with holidaymakers at its private beach on the north coast at Labadee, an “exclusive destination with pristine beaches, breathtaking scenery and spectacular water activities.”

The company’s “Independence of the Seas” ship was the first to return last Friday, just three days after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the capital Port-au-Prince, with three more ships scheduled to stop at Labadee this week.

Critics have accused the company of being insensitive to the suffering and humanitarian disaster about 80 miles away, where up to 200,000 people are feared dead.

But the company said it is proud of what its people and its ships are going, with the ships making a valuable contribution to the relief effort by offloading goods and supplies at Labadee.

Responding to the criticism on Tuesday, Royal Caribbean International’s President and CEO Adam Goldstein said the ship’s visit to Labadee were helping Haiti in their own way.

“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,” Goldstein wrote on the company’s blog.

“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.”

Royal Caribbean Cruises has already announced plans to provide at least $1 million in humanitarian relief to Haiti.

A survey by an online cruise reviews and news website, Cruise Critic (http:\www.cruisecritic.com), found most passengers backed the cruising company’s decision to resume its stops.

An online poll of 4,700 people found 67 percent of British and U.S. readers praised the aid and financial support ships and passengers were bringing to the port.

“At first, I thought it was in poor taste for Royal Caribbean to continue to go to Labadee, but since reading blogs and articles about the efforts that Royal Caribbean is doing and speaking with my friend ... about how the crew feels about helping the people of the country then I think it’s a no-brainer that they should continue,” Cruise Critic member “libertylover” wrote on one of the website’s message boards.

Others disagreed.

“I have donated my money, but I would not feel comfortable going there for a vacation at this time,” posted “jerseygirl79.” “Not only would I not feel safe, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable enjoying a vacation so close to utter devastation and loss of life.”

Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy

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