Four months before the first cruise of the 'voluntourism' cruise line Fathom, fares have been slashed – a sign they are not selling well.
When it was launched in June in a blaze of publicity, Fathom promised something different, including the chance for passengers to help impoverished islanders in the Caribbean.
Travelling on the 700-capacity Adonia – which is to transfer from P&O Cruises’ fleet – guests were promised the opportunity to volunteer to work on projects such as a women’s chocolate co-operative in the Dominican Republic.
A few weeks later, Cuba became the second destination on Fathom’s schedules. The gradual relaxation of the US trade embargo against the Communist-run island might not yet be opening the door to mainstream cruise ships, but educational and social engagement is permitted.
Fathom has received the go-ahead from the American authorities, although it is yet to announce whether agreement has been reached with the Castro government.
It’s a bold initiative, but doubts remain over whether the good intentions of parent company Carnival Corporation will be successful in attracting paying ‘voluntourism’ guests in viable numbers.
And with four months to go before the first Fathom cruise, fares have been slashed – a sure sign they are not selling as well as anticipated.
Another indication that the ‘social impact’ trips are not proving that attractive came in a Carnival announcement a few days ago.
Early publicity suggested that passengers would also spend their days on board ship learning to speak Spanish and discovering more about their island neighbours.
Fathom is now keen to stress that there will be opportunities for sightseeing and fun in the Dominican Republic, scuba diving lessons and a day spent relaxing aboard a catamaran. Not to mention taking advantage of the shops, bars, restaurants and other attractions of Carnival’s recently opened private resort at Amber Cove, where Adonia will be berthed.
Absent is any mention, however, of what there is to do during a week in Cuba.
There’s a nagging doubt that the well-meaning marketeers at Fathom may find themselves out of their depth in the cold, hard commercial world.