18 January 2010

Business in Haiti ~ Continuing Trade & Tourism

Robert Booth of the Guardian reports Royal Caribbean is committed to continuing cruise ship visits to their private complex in Labadee, Haiti -- a location on the other side of Hispaniola from the Port-au-Prince earthquake zone. Multiple commentators have expressed "horror" at this decision, calling it an "ethics void" among other disparagements, arguing everything from "callous, aloof" to distasteful "business as usual" and "misuse of resources" to "social injustice". The anti-commercial ethically-myopic irrational righteousness of such comments is really quite saddening. What's unethical about this enterprise? Absolutely nothing. Indeed, it took courage on the part of the cruise company to realize that their northern Haitian employees still need jobs and income, that neighboring resorts in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico remain open, that operating and remaining profitable is what allows them to donate millions to relief, and that they can also open their port to relief supplies in addition to cruise customers. They add to what Haiti needs most right now: A combination of immediate aid -- which governments, civic institutions, and aid organizations are pouring in like a tidal wave, deceptively slow to build up, but ultimately huge -- and urgent solutions for systematic rebuilding, and continued longer-term economic development and regeneration. As Booth quotes Royal Caribbean saying...
"In the end, Labadee is critical to Haiti's recovery; hundreds of people rely on Labadee for their livelihood," said John Weis, vice-president. "In our conversations with the UN special envoy of the government of Haiti, Leslie Voltaire, he notes that Haiti will benefit from the revenues that are generated from each call. "We also have tremendous opportunities to use our ships as transport vessels for relief supplies and personnel to Haiti. Simply put, we cannot abandon Haiti now that they need us most." "Friday's call in Labadee went well," said Royal Caribbean. "Everything was open, as usual. The guests were very happy to hear that 100% of the proceeds from the call at Labadee would be donated to the relief effort."
Who else is on-board helping build up Business in Haiti?

1 comment:

lhtorres said...

Hi Joost,

I think there needs to be a pause here, because the question, "Who's for building business" isn't quite the same as, "Its ethically questionable to send tourists to a destination in the days following a disaster."

My point is that a) the population is likely traumatized. How many of them might want to search for relatives, friends, or provide aid to countrymen during the days immediately following the catastrophe? and b) what role can a multinational cruise company play in facilitating this process?

Unanswered questions for me are, for example, were employees offered the choice of taking care of family matters for the week at full pay, versus serving up pina coladas? What direct assistance could the company provide while re-routing their ships?

In terms of the big picture, no I am not keen on the style of tourism represented by the Royal cruise presence in Haiti. The notion of sealing off a private beach and sealing the tourists behind security in exchange for the employment of 200 persons and a $6 per tourist cash fee to the government does not strike me as a healthy, economy-building mode of tourism.

If you want to have *that* conversation I'd love to, but I stand my view that bringing tourist ships to Cape Haitien in the days immediately following disaster, while aid still being squeezed through the port, is not an ethically acceptable mode of operation. To me, and I accept that. Doesn't mean I'm not "on board" for building ethical, forward looking and partnership-led businesses that more than prey upon a country's vulnerable political and economic liabilities while profiting from their natural beauty.