One of the port-of-calls for some Royal Caribbean cruises is a resort called Labadee. It sits on the pristine coast of Haiti, sixty miles from the capital of Port-au-Prince. Of course, last week's 7.0 earthquake devastated the city and killed tens of thousands of people.
Yet Royal Caribbean has decided to go ahead and allow its ships to dock at the resort. The question: Are the cruises done in poor taste or actually vital and necessary for Haiti's recovery?
The cruise company admitted it was a difficult decision. But Royal Caribbean, which leases Labadee from the Haitian government, finally decided its presence would do more good than harm.
"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."
The first ship docked Friday. It delivered forty pallets of rice, beans, powdered milk, water, and canned foods. And more is on the way. Also, Royal Caribbean said it would donate all proceeds from the Labadee stop to the relief effort -- that's in addition to an already promised $1 million.
Despite the good will, some passengers were appalled that they would still be stopping in Haiti. On the cruise's Internet forum, they wrote:
"I just can't see myself sunning on the beach, playing in the water, eating a barbecue, and enjoying a cocktail while [in Port-au-Prince] there are tens of thousands of dead people being piled up on the streets, with the survivors stunned and looking for food and water."
"It was hard enough to sit and eat a picnic lunch at Labadee before the quake, knowing how many Haitians were starving. I can't imagine having to choke down a burger there now.''
Others, though, didn't seem too concerned about the nearby death and suffering:
"I'll be there on Tuesday and I plan on enjoying my zip line excursion as well as the time on the beach."
Labadee is heavily guarded so that only cruise passengers can enjoy its beaches and amenities. There were fears that desperate people might breach the resort's 12-foot high fences to get food and water, but that didn't happen.
Royal Caribbean recently spent $55 million updating Labadee. It employs 230 Haitians, and the company estimates another 300 more benefit from a craft market where passengers shop for souvenirs. The development has been regarded as a beacon of private investment in Haiti. But some Haitians are outraged that part of the nation's coastline is effectively in private hands.