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In my post on Haiti’s earthquake, I mentioned that Royal Caribbean was planning on returning ships to the company’s private beach in Labadee. This move has touched off something of a firestorm of controversy with customers and pundits alike claiming that the cruise line is “returning too soon.”

Gwyn Topham at The Guardian cited it as but one example of how “tourism provides a microcosm of modern globalised inequality, with all the advantages or injustices it bestows on those on different sides of the divide.” Making the argument a bit more pointedly anti-American, Dave Thier on Sphere.com noted that Royal Caribbean’s decision to return to Haiti demonstrated that “nothing, not even a devastating earthquake that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, can deter the American vacationer’s drive to unwind.”

For now, I’ll put “globalized injustice” aside. Let’s just talk about Haiti.

I agree that quickly returning to Labadee might seem callous at first. The idea of vacationers frolicking in the sand and sipping frozen cocktails while nearby tens or hundreds of thousands of bodies are buried under rubble or stacked in the streets seems repulsive. If these folks aren’t vacationing in Hell, they’re certainly right next door.

Yet, I’m not sure by what ethical standard we could or should say that the return to Labadee is morally wrong. Indeed, on closer examination, it seems morally neutral at worst and is in all likelihood—on balance—the right thing to do.

Are the visits causing harm to Haiti? No. There are no claims that the presence of these cruise ships has in anyway hampered relief efforts to Haiti.

Are the visits helping Haiti? Yes. The cruise ships have been bringing relief supplies to Haiti, as well as donating the net revenue generated by these visits to relief organizations.

Could the cruise lines do more? Absolutely. And, maybe they should. However, they are for-profit companies and not non-profit relief agencies.

The cruises—to Haiti or not—will go on.

In the end, I don’t see how abandoning trips to Haiti and going to the Dominican Republic (which is part of the same island) or Key West or wherever else would make the situation any better. Not returning to Haiti quickly, if only in a small way, would only make the situation marginally worse.

Whatever other faults Royal Caribbean might have, they made the right call this time.

If you’d like to help, please donate to Haiti’s relief efforts.

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