On June 4, 2016, Carnival Corporation, the parent company of Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and six other cruise brands, launched its 10th brand - - fathom. The aim of the new brand simply stated is to change the world. Fathom will do this by tapping into what Carnival sees as a growing market demand for travel experiences in which the traveler makes meaningful contributions in a way that is lasting and sustainable.
“In the end, this is about doing good in a sustainable way. When I first came in as CEO I was so overwhelmed by the spirit of our employees and the guests. I thought if that spirit and capital could somehow be targeted, we could really have some monumental change,” explained Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald.
To this end, Mr. Donald brought in Tara Russell, who has extensive experience in organizing humanitarian development efforts, to spearhead the development of what Carnival calls “impact travel.” After 18 months of study, fathom was born. “We think we have identified something that can work. We have to prove it out “
The concept is straight forward. Fathom will offer voyages to developing destinations where the passengers can do volunteer work with local organizations. Passengers volunteer to do things like teach English, plant trees, develop local businesses, or create a clean water supply. Utilizing proven local partners, fathom will match passengers with projects and arrange the logistics necessary so that the passengers can do their chosen work.
“This isn't just about going somewhere. It is about the traveler - - traveling for enrichment and growth. It is fun too. So you are going to do real work but you are going to have real fun.”
“We know it is a niche but we think it is a sizable enough niche to have a real impact because thousands of volunteer days a week is a powerful thing.”
“A lot of money is spent annually on people doing mission trips and that kind of thing. There are also a lot of people who would like to do something but do not know how to do it because [they have] no real structure or organization for it. This is much more systematic.”
“You have church groups, mercy groups, people bringing materials, people bringing pencils to schools, things like that. We are not trying to detract from them. But there is something even more that we can do if we organize it right. If we pair up with the right partners and we can have much greater impact. It has to be systematic.”
Potential fathom travelers “run the gamut. Obviously, Millennials over index in terms of their appetite for this sort of thing but they over-index, they are not alone. It can also be a family where they just say 'I want to get my kids some different values.' It can just be people who say 'wow I'm looking for personal enrichment.”
“It appeals to a lot of people. I'm sure that there are people who already cruise who will want to do this. At the same time, there are people who even if they were very clear about what cruising really is, they would chose not to cruise. A number of them would chose to do this. So there will be a portion of the audience who would never have gotten on a ship otherwise.”
Carnival Corporation is not a charity and so fathom is geared to be a profit-making venture. Not only is this consistent with Carnival's obligations to its shareholders but as Mr. Donald explains, it is key to having the desired impact.
“The reality here is that you want something that is sustainable. [With charity] happens and that dries up. Then the organization is left hanging because they cannot get the money that they used to get. When it is a profit-making venture, it self-sustains itself. We are going to make a nickel but honestly, the amount of money that we are going to make is not going to move the share price or anything. But by making money, we can continue to do it in good faith and so on.”
Fathom will begin sailing in April 2016, offering week-long voyages from Miami. “Technically, it is really not a cruise, it is a travel experience. It is not guests, it is travelers.”
To begin, the destination will be the Dominican Republic. “We looked at a number of places. The Dominican Republic was chosen for a number of reasons. It is close. We know that geography. We are building Amber Cove - - a [private] destination that will be available in 2016. So we have infrastructure. The other thing was the on-the-ground partners. We have to have the right partners. The partners [who appeared on stage at the launch ceremony] have delivered year in and year out. They have made transformational differences so they know what they are doing.”
Travelers will spend four days and three nights in the Dominican Republic. During their stay, the travelers can sign up for various volunteer work experiences. “It is up to the traveler to make their own decisions. The fare will cover a number of experiences. If you want to do more, it will be something extra.”
“Everybody is not going to do [volunteer work] every day all day. They are going to say I want to go to the beach or I want to take a tour or just hang out and relax. There is nothing wrong with that.”
While in the Dominican Republic, “the ship becomes the hotel so it is convenient for the travelers. People want to work but they also want to be comfortable. So the ship is there for that.”
When the ship is at sea “there are activities, immersion activities and so on.” However, there will not be such familiar cruise ship staples as a casino and Broadway-style shows.
“Before they go [on the voyage], materials will come so that they can begin to get immersed in the area. Once they leave, reports will be coming back - - here is what happened this week on the project you worked on - - progress made, challenges, things that did not work out, etc.”
“We have one ship right now, the Adonia, a P&O ship, that is being redeployed for this purpose. There are other ships that we can use.“
Adonia, formerly the Royal Princess of Princess Cruises, began life as one of the R ships of Renaissance Cruises. In many ways, Adonia still resembles her former sister ships that now sail for the luxury cruise lines Azamara Club Cruises and Oceania Cruises. Although Adonia will undergo a dry dock refit before joining fathom, Mr. Donald does not anticipate significant changes.
“We probably won't be doing much changes to the ship because it is really not about the ship. It is already kind of perfectly situated for this kind of experience.”
“What makes the atmosphere on a ship is the community that is on the ship. So this community is going to be a slightly different community. It will have its own feel. It is a beautiful ship. Anyone who is on it will enjoy it. But the spirit onboard will be dictated by the community and the activities. The feeling will be different.”
The starting price for voyages is expected to be approximately $1,600 per person.
Above: Adonia (photo courtesy of P&O Cruises).
Below: Adonia when she was Royal Princess.
Cruise Interview - - Carnival Corporation/ fathom - - Arnold Donald, President and CEO