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As our bus bounced along the rutted roads of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, Fathom president Tara Russell earnestly reiterated the new cruise line’s premise and slogan.
“This is a different kind of cruise that combines your love of travel with your desire to make a difference,” said Russell, who also serves as global impact lead for Carnival Corporation & plc.
Carnival first announced Fathom’s debut in June, along with its mission (to gather like-minded individuals to produce scalable social impact) and its maiden destination: Puerto Plata. Reactions generally have been positive, but some members of the travel industry hesitate to show approval — and instead, speculate about the true intentions of a giant conglomerate such as Carnival.
But, as I learned during a whirlwind sampler of its on-ground impact activities, Fathom is the real deal. It’s the first brand to enter the uncharted territory of social-impact cruising. And though Fathom is steered by quite the humble bunch, the bragging rights of being on the industry’s cutting edge continue: In early July, the U.S. government granted consent for Fathom to sail to Cuba. Though the final approval from Cuban authorities is pending as of press time, spots on the sailings are already available for booking. Itineraries will abide by Cuba’s stringent U.S. guidelines, and will only include cultural and educational people-to-people activities.
Regardless if the destination is Cuba or the D.R., however, Fathom intends to keep its promise of promoting “impact travel.” In the D.R., Fathom has symbiotic partnerships with both local and international organizations. A portion of all ticket sales will go directly to these groups to assist with supplies, infrastructure, personnel, activities and more. In other words, support will be ongoing — even when the 710-passenger Adonia isn’t docked at port.
“Finding the right partners was critical,” explained Bart Munro, vice president of product and technology for Fathom. “Our objective is not just to create an amazing experience or a model that pays for itself to continue delivering impact. We have to ensure that what comes out of this, week after week, actually improves lives.”
One partner is Chocal, a women’s cooperative that produces artisanal chocolates. Travelers can spend a half-day working with cacao seedlings at an organic nursery, followed by hands-on experience making the chocolate at Chocal. Another opportunity is to promote youth empowerment via one-on-one language sessions with Puerto Plata students, as English proficiency largely drives the local job market and economy.
Last but not least, there’s Wine to Water, an international nonprofit organization that provides water to those in need. Alongside local artisans, Fathom passengers will help make ceramic water filters, partaking in steps such as mixing and firing clay, forming the filters and performing quality control. Their hard work will benefit nearby villages.
Eventually, Fathom hopes to expand to destinations far beyond the Dominican Republic and Cuba.
“The model is extremely replicable,” Munro said. “We try to avoid doing anything where it’s about just one place or just one organization. The vision is multiple ships, in multiple parts of the world and to multiple destinations that are a great fit and in need of this kind of experience.”
New cruise line Fathom will connect passengers with organizations such as Chocal in the Dominican Republic’s Puerto Plata region. // © 2015 Fathom
Chocal is a women’s cooperative that produces artisanal chocolates. // © 2015 Valerie Chen
After working with cacao seedlings at a nursery, passengers can help make the chocolate at the Chocal factory. // © 2015 Fathom
Bart Munro, vice president of product and technology for Fathom, with Puerto Plata schoolchildren during a sampling of Fathom’s on-ground activities // © 2015 Valerie Chen
Fathom president Tara Russell participates in a fun activity promoting English proficiency. // © 2015 Fathom
Another on-ground partner is Wine to Water, an international nonprofit organization that works to provide clean water access. // © 2015 Fathom