Would you take a cruise to help people in need? Industry giant Carnival Corp. is betting on it.
The parent company of Carnival, Princess and Holland America today announced plans for a new cruise brand to debut in 2016 that will offer week-long “social impact” vacations to developing countries such as the Dominican Republic.
To be called fathom, the line will launch with a single ship, the 710-passenger Adonia. The vessel currently sails for Carnival’s UK-base P&O Cruises brand.
“fathom will cater to an under-served market of consumers who want to have a positive impact on people’s lives, and aren’t always sure where to begin,” Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald says in a statement accompanying the announcement. “We believe travel is a meaningful way to allow for personal growth while making purposeful and engaging contributions in the world.”
Based in Miami, the Adonia initially will sail every other week to the Dominican Republic, where passengers will have a choice of volunteer activities such as teaching English in schools, helping to cultivate cacao plants and building water filtration systems.
Departing Miami on Sundays, the ship will arrive in the Dominican Republic on Tuesdays and passengers will have three days on the ground to participate in volunteer activities before the vessel sets sail back to Miami. The time in transit to the Dominican Republic will feature such activities as an orientation to the country, conversational Spanish lessons, impact activity training and creative workshops.
Carnival Corp. notes the average household income in the Dominican Republic is just $6,000 per year, and more than two million Dominicans do not have access to piped water.
Additional itineraries will be announced at a later date.
As described by Carnival Corp., the cruises will have similarities to the “volunteer vacations” operated by such non-profit groups as GlobeAware as well as the social impact-focused trips operated by church and school groups.
But the executive Carnival has hired to develop and run the brand, Tara Russell, tells USA TODAY what fathom will do is on a scale that never has been seen before. While each passenger on sailings to the Dominican Republic only will spend a few days in the country, the cumulative effect of more than 700 passengers arriving each week — week after week — will have an unprecedented, transformative impact, she says.
In the first year alone, assuming bi-weekly arrivals, fathom will deposit more than 18,000 travelers in the Dominican Republic who will collectively spend more than 55,000 days volunteering.
“Part of what’s different is the size and scale of our offering,” says Russell, a veteran social organization leader who founded the non-profit job training and placement organization Create Common Good. “Rather than partnering with one village, we’re looking at a whole region.”
When visiting the Dominican Republic, Adonia will dock at Amber Cove, a new port in the northern Puerto Plata region of the country that Carnival Corp. is developing for use by several of its brands. It’s scheduled to open later this year. Russell says the volunteer projects in which passengers will take part all will be within about a two-hour drive of the port.
Russell says it’s very important to the company that it effect “holistic, transformative impact” on the region — and on the passengers who sign on for the trips.
“It’s saying, ‘how is it that our travelers can engage in a meaningful way that makes a lasting sustainable impact,” she says.
Russell says fathom chose the Puerto Plata region of the Dominican Republic as its first destination because of its innate beauty, genuine needs, infrastructure to support social initiatives and enthusiasm for the fathom concept. Its proximity to Miami and the availability of the new Amber Cove pier also were factors.
Fathom is partnering with two Dominican Republic organizations that have long-established programs to help locals: Entrena and the Instituto Dominicano de Desarrollo Integral, Inc.
Carnival Corp. says market research shows there is a sizable and growing segment of travelers who would be interested in a product like fathom — as many as one million North Americans. In addition, the company believes the brand will attract a significant number of travelers who have never before cruised.
The company expects passengers of all ages and from all walks of life, with a large portion in the 20- to 60-year-old range.
To fill its one ship, the line will need to draw about 37,000 people a year.
Unlike many volunteer vacation outfits, fathom will operate as a for-profit enterprise — a fact that Russell says is important to its success. If it can be profitable, it will justify the investment that will result in a lasting impact on the communities it serves, she suggests.
“The key is a sustainable business model … our belief is sort of ‘no margin, no mission.’ What that means is if we aren’t able to build a successful, financially-viable model, then we cannot commit to our Dominican partners that we can be there next year.”
A portion of ticket revenue will go directly to fathom’s partner organizations to cover on-the-ground costs and their overall mission, the company says.
Russell says the Adonia’s return on invested capital is expected to be better operating under the fathom brand than as part of P&O Cruises.
Fares for the seven-night trips to the Dominican Republic will start at $1,540 per person, based on double occupancy and including taxes, port fees, all meals on the ship and three on-shore social impact activities. Additional shore excursions will be extra.
Cabins will be available for booking starting this month at fathom.org or by calling 855-932-8466.