Cruiser's dilemma in Haiti

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Royal Caribbean is taking a lot of heat over its decision to continue to bring passengers to its private beach at Labadee, about 100 miles up the coast from earthquake-shattered Port-au-Prince. Never mind that it donated a million bucks to the relief efforts, and is bringing in aide and supplies along with passengers -- to most, it may look like, as David Letterman, said, something only "idiot cruise ships" would do. But it's not so simple to deride the decision if you look beyond the first gut reaction.

I think that Royal Caribbean is doing the best it can under horrible circumstances; it's just that we're all really uncomfortable about it. Personally, there's no way I could sip a rum drink knowing about the devastation just down the coast -- just as I couldn't go enjoy being in New York for a long time after 9/11 or New Orleans while the worst of the post-Katrina nightmare was still going on. Being in close proximity to so much suffering precludes good times for most of us, even as the local NY and NOLA CVBs begged us to bring our tourist and meetings dollars to the area so business as somewhat usual can resume and people can have some sense of normalcy again (and a cash-flow source, of course). Haiti, of course, is not a major meetings or tourism destination in the same way New Orleans or New York are, but there are some parallels to be drawn.

Then there was this quote in a Miami Herald story a poster on the Miforum listserv pointed out:

Arthur Applbaum, a Harvard University professor of ethics and public policy, said that while it shows "moral sensitivity to be disturbed by the thought that one is vacationing on the beach when others are suffering nearby ... it also shows insufficient moral reflection to think that proximity makes a moral difference.

"The people of Haiti are suffering whether you take your beach vacation in the Dominican Republic or in Hawaii," he said, "and it is a failure of the moral imagination not to be equally troubled in Waikiki."

I have a failure of moral imagination then, because to me, there is a difference -- even if I can't articulate what exactly it is. I still think RCCL is doing the best thing it can in a terrible situation: bringing continuity to the people who depend on its passengers for their livelihood, along with aide and funds. I just would not be able to stomach being one of the passengers, not now. If that makes me a hypocrite, so be it.

For a first-person account of what being a passenger on a recent stop in Labadee was like, check out this post: Cruise with a Purpose. Granted, coming from an executive with cruising company Seasite.com may give it a bit of a positive spin, but I have a feeling she speaks for how most of the passengers probably felt about the experience.

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