The company came under fire after The Guardian published an article detailing the decision "to deliver tourists to a private beach less than 100 miles from Port-au-Prince."
"There are some who are criticizing us for continuing to call on Labadee with vacationing guests, knowing that less than 100 miles away people are suffering,' says Betsy O'Rourke, Royal Caribbean's senior VP, marketing. "We gave a lot of thought to that very question: Is it appropriate for us to continue business as usual at this destination? We reached out to Leslie Voltaire, Haiti's liaison to President Clinton, and someone who has known and worked with us for more than 10 years in different minister-level positions in the Haitian government. Mr. Voltaire fully supported the continuation of our ship calls. He said there must be both rescue and recovery, and the economic benefit of our ship calls is part of recovery."
O'Rourke says the situation reminds her of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani going on national television after the 9/11 crisis and asking people to come to the city if they really wanted to help so that the economy would rebuild as quickly as possible.
"So while we recognize that it may seem insensitive to some to have our guests enjoying the beautiful waters and beaches on one side of the island while there is misery on the other side, we know that by continuing to bring our ships to the island, we will not only be delivering much-needed supplies, but we will be continuing to contribute to the overall economic well-being of the country as we have for almost 30 years now." O'Rourke says.
A Royal Caribbean spokesperson said a recent blog posting by Adam Goldstein, Royal Caribbean International's president and chief executive officer, addresses why the company continues to call on Labadee, even after the earthquake.
"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," Goldstein writes. "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."
Passengers have been divided about whether to disembark and use the resort, which is under armed guard and is leased by Royal Caribbean from the Haitian government, reports The Guardian. Some have chosen to remain on board during the stop.
The cruise company has pledged to donate $1 million in humanitarian relief, including emergency food supplies which were loaded on the ship during its call in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and have already been delivered. In addition, 100% of the company's net revenue from the destination will be contributed to the relief effort.
The company is also donating spare sun loungers and beach furniture to a makeshift hospital for victims of the earthquake. The hospital opened in a gym in Cap Haitian, 15 miles from Labadee, where thousands of people are said to be arriving to seek shelter, food and water or medical help. Royal Caribbean has partnered with charitable organizations such as Food for the Poor, Pan American Development Foundation, and the Solano Foundation, the company's foundation in Haiti.