When Royal Caribbean resumed its cruise ships' calls on Labadee in an effort to bring paying passengers and needed relief supplies to the island nation of Haiti, the decision sparked a heated debate about whether spending a day vacationing on the beach was appropriate given the grim circumstances just miles away. Through it all, several Cruise Critic members have stressed the important role tourism can play in healing a city that's faced catastrophe.
After the terrorist attack in New York City on September 11, 2001, campaigns sprung up to encourage visitors to continue coming -- and spending. New Orleans residents and officials issued similar pleas after 2005's Hurricane Katrina. This week, we received another reminder of the impact tourism can have on disaster recovery -- economic and otherwise -- via a "letter to the editor" from Stephen B. Richer, who served as the executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau before, during, and after Katrina ravaged the coast.
Below is Richer's letter, which we received via e-mail:
"The recent news about the appropriateness of Royal Caribbean International Cruise Lines bringing visitors back to Labadee Island in Haiti caught my attention.
"As the former Executive Director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, who served before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina, I say to Royal Caribbean, its President Adam Goldstein, and all its employees thanks for bringing vital economic activity back to Haiti!
"Royal Caribbean has been searching for some of its missing staff who had been home in Haiti when the earthquake hit. They brought needed medical supplies and financial support to Haiti. Now, they are bringing back tourism.
"As hard as it might seem in the face of the loss of life and chaotic destruction in Port-au-Prince and its surroundings, economic activity is the biggest long term lifeline for Haiti. When Hurricane Katrina struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the first sign that a real recovery was underway was the reopening of the Imperial Palace (now IP) Casino in Biloxi four months after the storm.
"Royal Caribbean is bringing back business just days after the earthquake. Friends and citizens of Haiti should be celebrating this move.
"Many travel industry organizations are posting the names of organizations to which its members can send donations for Haitian relief, making the collective travel sector effort a key part of the world relief contributions.
"I support Royal Caribbean for stepping up now to help and stand with them and any others who can bring jobs and income back to Haiti."
--by Melissa Paloti, Managing Editor
Cruise Exec Defends Royal Caribbean Haiti Decision
First Reports In from Cruise Passengers Back from Haiti
Members Speak Out: Should Cruise Ships Have Returned to Haiti?
Haiti Relief: Cruise Industry Response Update
How You Can Help Haiti
First Cruise Ship Arrives in Labadee After Haiti Quake
Cruise Industry Plans Haiti Relief Effort
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Tourism Veteran Speaks Out on Haiti Cruise Calls
January 27, 2010