Carnival, the world’s largest travel and leisure company, is betting there’s a growing segment of travelers who want to do more than just cruise by locations but stop and make a difference. In a game-changing announcement that aligns its corporate citizenship commitment with a new brand experience for customers, the company is expanding into social impact travel with the appointment of social entrepreneur Tara Russell as its first president of the new fathom (with a lowercase ‘F’) cruise brand and and Carnival’s new Global Impact Lead.
The 10th brand in the global Carnival family will offer opportunities for an immersive experience in another culture where locals and visitors work together “to create enduring, life-changing impact, and build community…all on a scale never before seen,” according to a statement.
Russell came up with the idea and will work with all of Carnival Corporation’s 10 brands on social impact strategies and opportunities.
— Tara Varga Russell (@taravrussell) June 3, 2015
Already on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, fathom will set sail from Miami in April 2016, launching 7-day “impact journeys” to the Dominican Republic and starting now, travelers can reserve a place online now.
The maiden voyage on the Adonia will carry 710 passengers to the DR, offering basic Spanish lessons and other orientation skills en route to prepare them for choices of volunteering like teaching English, working with locals on “sculpting clay to build water filters, providing clean drinking water in a country where more than two million people do not have piped water” or cultivating cacao plants for a women’s chocolate-making cooperative. As fathom puts it, “Planting cacao plants allows the cooperatives to increase their production, to help locals achieve economic independence.”
“Marketing cruises as a way to volunteer — rather than as relaxing vacations or sightseeing trips — could help Carnival tackle two problems that plague the cruise industry,” according to Skift. “For one thing, cruise companies are good at getting passengers to keep taking cruises — 62 percent of passengers are repeat cruisers, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). But cruise companies have had less success persuading people who’ve never cruised to give it a shot.”
“Second, with the average age of cruise passengers at 49, according to CLIA, the industry needs younger travelers. Carnival said its market research predicts that nearly 40 percent of those likely to book a fathom trip will be new to cruising and half will consist of families.”
While other cruise brands offer one-off volunteer excursions, “for a cruise company to actually dedicate one ship to this, year-round, is extraordinary,” commented Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of CruiseCritic.com, to Skift.
Russell is founder and chairman of nonprofit, Create Common Good, training poor people for food service jobs and her new mission at fathom she says will “mobilize, educate and equip 700 travelers on every trip allowing for thousands of impact activity days per week — and tens of thousands of travelers a year.”
A portion of each fare sold will be used by local partners to cover activities including supplies, travel, personnel and funding for the partner organizations’ missions. Trip prices start at $1,540 a person which includes a cabin, all meals onboard and three on-shore activities related to the volunteer effort, (upgrades priced accordingly).
“The key is a sustainable business model … our belief is sort of ‘no margin, no mission,’” added Russell in USA Today. “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.”
Arnold Donald, President and CEO of Carnival Corporation told the Miami Herald that the goal with fathom is to do good by “driving, over time, real meaningful change for the better in a community.”
“We access new people who otherwise might not have cruised. We repurpose a vessel, extending its life, lowering costs associated with it, driving better revenue. There’s just a whole lot of additional benefits, the halo effect that will come with it. We’re optimistic we’ll prove it out. If for some reason it doesn’t work, then the worst thing that happens is we tried something that’s a little noble.”
Will other travel brands embrace social impact travel, perhaps inspired by fathom? Customer demand may help drive demand. Stay tuned.