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Carnival Comes to Haiti: Cruise Line Announces a New Port

September 17, 2015

Carnival hopes to add another destination to its Caribbean itinerary: Haiti (Photo: AP)

Haiti’s efforts to go from the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere to a prime tourism spot just got a huge boost.

Carnival Corporation — parent company of Carnival, Princess, Cunard and several other cruise lines — has just announced plans to build a new port on the Haitian island of Ile de la Tortue (also known as Tortuga Island). In a statement, Carnival executive David Candib says the development “will create an exciting opportunity for our guests to enjoy a new, secluded, and stunning destination.”

Carnival’s proposed $70 million Haiti beachhead: Tortuga (Photo: Diagonal Uno/Flickr)

Carnival’s new port would compete with Royal Caribbean, the first cruise line to establish a Haitian beachhead in its popular Caribbean route. Royal Caribbean’s Labadee port in northern Haiti allows passengers to spend a day on a private beach owned by the cruise line. Activities include outdoor buffets, a beach, water sports and zip lining.

Royal Caribbean spent about $50 million developing Labadee and Carnival plans to spare no expense on its new outpost on Tortuga. Haiti’s prime minister, who’s working with Carnival on its new project, tweeted Carnival’s initial investment will be about $70 million.

Royal Caribbean has been going to Haiti since the 1980s. It operates a private beach stop in Labadee (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

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By setting up shot in Haiti, Carnival may open itself up to the same questions Royal Caribbean has faced for establishing a tourist destination in poverty-stricken Haiti. For years, critics have argued that Royal Caribbean’s Labadee, which is fenced off from the rest of Haiti and patrolled by armed guards, is essentially another on-board perk that allows the cruise line to keep profits to itself.  

That criticism came to a head in 2010, when Royal Caribbean resumed its Labadee port stops days after a devastating earthquake killed tens of thousands of people in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince. Some questioned the propriety of depositing tourists for a day of fun in the sun while impoverished people were dying 90 miles away. 

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Royal Caribbean has consistently defended its presence in Haiti. In the days after the quake, its ships ferried much-needed emergency supplies to Haiti. Since then, the company says it’s donated more than $2.5 million to earthquake relief. It encourages passengers to donate to Haiti charities and the company even built a school in Haiti in 2010.

Carnival, like Royal Caribbean, may face questions about its operations in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. (Photo AP)

Then there’s the benefit to the local economy: Royal Caribbean says its Labadee operation directly employs more than 200 Haitians and allows another 300 souvenir vendors to sell directly to passengers.

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Carnival tells Yahoo Travel its new Haitian port is only in the earliest of planning stages. So right now, the extent of Carnival’s future charity involvement is unknown. But Carnival says its new Haitian port will employ, directly or indirectly, more than 900 people and will create a “tremendous economic impact” for Haitians.

It’s clear Haitian officials see tourism as the answer to the nation’s poverty. The prime minister has announced a $260 million dollar project to turn another Haitian island into a high-end resort, complete with its own airport.

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