Carnival Corporation is the world’s largest cruise company with operations in North America, Australia, Europe, and Asia. Representing about half of the cruise industry, Carnival Corporation features nine of the world’s most popular and well‐respected cruise line brands, which include Carnival Cruise Line, Cunard, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, and Seabourn in the U.S.; AIDA Cruises in Germany, Costa Cruises in Italy, and P&O UK in Southampton, England, and P&O Australia in Sydney.  Together, our brands operate more than 100 ships that visit more than 700 global ports around the world. With over 150,000 employees from over 150 countries, we have a passion for providing provide extraordinary vacations at an exceptional value to our nearly 13 million guests annually.

Sustainability is a critically important part of how we conduct our business. We have been committed since our inception in 1972 to operating responsibly, as our very existence is tied to protecting the oceans and communities in which we operate. Our highest responsibility and top priorities are compliance, protecting the environment and the safety, health and well-being of our guests, our crew members and the people in the communities we visit. Our deep commitment to responsible sustainability practices is not just an operating necessity – one that involves oversight from the corporation’s Board of Directors – but it is simply the right thing to do.

Our commitment also includes building community solution partnerships rooted in shared values. We make sustainable tourism a top corporate priority by minimizing our overall environmental impact, including reducing our carbon footprint, improving air quality, reducing waste generation and improving water use efficiency, in addition to providing a variety of community‐based traveler experiences. We promote sustainable tourism by contributing to communities in a positive social, environmental and economic manner, working in conjunction with a diversity of stakeholders.

When and why did you begin your impact tourism program?

Carnival Corporation’s global impact journey began long before the world came to know Fathom, the social impact travel brand and experiences developed and launched in 2015. The Carnival Foundation was formally created in 1992 as the charitable arm of Carnival Corporation. It is dedicated to creating positive change through empowering youth, enhancing education, and strengthening families in the communities where employees live and work.

In June of 2015, we introduced a new category of travel – Social Impact Travel – through Fathom. This launch was the culmination of 18 months of deep ethnographic research in tandem with an imaginative human‐centered design process, robust quantitative market research and rigorous business and operational planning. Fathom offered travelers a seven‐day cruise experience to the Dominican Republic (DR) with original purpose‐built onboard experiences and educational programming intended to prepare travelers for their time onshore coming alongside Dominican residents to participate in community‐based experiences.

In May 2016 Carnival Corporation, through Fathom, made history as the first U.S. cruise company to sail from the U.S. to Cuba in more than 40 years, taking travelers to this enchanting country to share rich people‐to‐people experiences and strengthen ties with Cubans. Carnival Corporation made more history in April 2016 by working closely with Cuban officials to encourage a policy change to allow Cuban-born individuals to travel to Cuba by sea, in the same manner as airline charter operations to Cuba.

Over the 15 months that Fathom delivered its seven‐day dedicated traveler experiences, we brought more than 32,000 travelers to the Dominican Republic and Cuba. While travelers loved the Fathom experiences, this novel category of travel was challenging to sell, market and scale. We evolved the vision from a ship‐based experience to focus on shore‐based activities and shared‐value programming delivered through our sister brands. In addition to experiences in the DR, we developed community-based impact activities in Jamaica and Cozumel and across the Caribbean in post‐Hurricane Maria efforts. Sister brands continue to deliver these transformative onshore experiences to their travelers, continuing and expanding the positive impact Fathom initiated in the Caribbean. Additionally, Fathom equipped sister brands with the unique social impact travel approach and mindset that is now being incorporated in places all over the world.

In order to provide more in-depth details, the following information specifically outlines Fathom’s impact tourism initiatives in the Dominican Republic:

Please provide brief examples of some of your most impactful projects.

Reforestation and Nurseries: Our travelers joined local reforestation efforts designed to improve the livelihoods of Dominican families, restore degraded land, and contribute to forest and wildlife conservation throughout the region. They participated in activities at a local nursery that ranged from potting seeds and seedlings and transporting plants to more physically demanding efforts like mixing potting soil, digging holes, and planting. In 2017 our travelers’ participation led to:

  • 15,000+ seeds planted in nurseries
  • 10,000+ seedlings transplanted from nurseries into the Dominican soil
  • 8+ acres of land reforested

Cacao and Women’s Chocolate Cooperative: Our travelers came alongside the women of Chocal, a small organic chocolate cooperative, in the entire chocolate‐making process, from the planting of cacao seeds to making Chocal’s renowned chocolate bars. In 2017 our travelers’ participation led to:

  • 1,500+ pounds of chocolate nibs cleaned
  • 47,000+ finished chocolate bars
  • 56,000+ products wrapped
  • 20,000+ cacao seeds planted in the nursery that services the factory

Water Filter Production: In the DR, more than three million people have no access to piped water. One solution is the production of clay water filters. Travelers joined established organizations and local artisans in the entire filter‐making process: gathering and mixing the raw materials, working the clay, shaping and firing the filters, and testing the quality of the finished product. The recipients of these filters experience a significant reduction in instances of waterborne illnesses, as well as cost savings from not having to purchase expensive bottled water. Indirect benefits include higher attendance at work and school and a reduction in waste. In 2017 our travelers’ participation led to:

  • 800+ water filters produced
  • 3,700+ individuals benefiting; now having access to safe drinking water

Did your impact tourism program help, hurt, or have no impact on your business?

Customers’ willingness to pay for the Fathom social impact journey to the DR was well below what the early research had indicated would be the case, which is why the brand evolved to a shore‐based experience model. Cuba was very successful given that, for an extended period of time, Fathom was the only U.S. ship offering travelers access and we were able to market and sell these experiences at full price. Fathom shared key learnings, content and programs with sister brands, which have had the ability to travel to Cuba as well when government regulations have allowed.

Both of Fathom’s journeys generated record‐breaking Net Promoter Scores (measuring customer satisfaction). And, in less than two years, Fathom generated more than 91 billion media impressions, more than 95% of which were positive or neutral in tone, thus increasing awareness of Carnival Corporation’s commitment to doing the right thing, thereby enhancing the organization’s brand reputation.

While Fathom is no longer in operation as a stand‐alone brand and independent cruise operation, its spirit remains alive and well within sister brands, which remain committed to community solution partnerships rooted in shared values and sustainable tourism.

Vetting Process

How did you select projects?

Fathom collaborated with a diverse mix of community, private sector and government leaders with deep roots and strong connections in the Dominican community. We identified organizations that had long‐established social impact programs in their respective regions and were eager to partner with Fathom and the tourism sector to amplify their results. Together, we identified activities that would have meaningful impact on individuals’ lives and make lasting contributions to the community. This means that communities decided priorities, instead of outsiders deciding for them. We actively incorporated local stakeholders who were traditionally marginalized from the economic benefits of tourism. The result was a broad variety of high‐energy and deeply meaningful activities that focused on local education, environmental protection and economic development. We later used the same asset‐based community development model to build the on‐ground activities in Jamaica and Cozumel, and for various post‐hurricane impact travel groups led in partnership with Princess while further training our sister brands to offer similar experiences where both community partners and travelers had mutual interests.

What was the structure to ensure ongoing accountability?

For each of our programs in the DR, we worked with our local partners to create development indicators. We then monitored and evaluated results and impact outcomes after each week (and compiled and analyzed over the longer term) that we brought travelers to the DR. We then made changes as, or if, necessary to ensure we were fulfilling our specific goals for each experience to ensure authentic impact, both on each trip and over the long term.

Fathom worked with local stakeholders and tour operators to ensure everyone was fully prepared to execute the experience and that the operators understood the importance of the activity for the community, importance of communication to ensure the experience met the needs. A manual on how to build sustainable purpose driven shorex was created and shared with the sister brands. Fathom internally then delivered on-site training to sister brands in Europe as well as in the UK.

Employee Engagement

How were your employees and your company involved in the projects?

Our team researched, developed and tested all projects in collaboration with DR partners. When Carnival Corporation, via Fathom, started talking with a diverse group of stakeholders in the DR, we wanted to understand the key priorities and opportunities for partnership. It quickly became apparent that the three Es – environment, education and economic development – were the greatest areas for potential impact and we built experiences around these priorities.

We also hired a talented and diverse local team of Dominicans, who worked full‐time with our DR partners to measure the quality and effectiveness of the community projects and ensure that our travelers were having an authentic impact. Our global team of Fathom Impact Guides participated in all activities alongside our travelers.

In addition, a majority of all Fathom employees participated in the DR activities. We chartered our ship, Adonia, from Carnival Corporation’s P&O Cruises UK and many officers and crew also participated. This ensured alignment with our mission, increased our impact on the ground and enabled ship staff to share their firsthand experiences with travelers and become corporate ambassadors globally, seeding future potential.

What were staff reactions?

When we announced the Fathom brand and mission in June 2015, many employees across the corporation reacted positively. We even received resumes from employees eager to join the Fathom brand because of their personal passion for social impact. Fathom generated a huge amount of media coverage (more than 91 billion impressions in less than two years) that lauded the corporation’s commitment to social impact and leadership role in pioneering a new category of travel, which instilled pride in many Carnival Corporation employees. Once we started sailing, we shared impact outcome metrics at the end of every week that travelers spent in the DR with all Fathom employees so they were continuously updated and could celebrate and share our progress. This enhanced staff (as well as traveler) satisfaction and commitment to our mission.

Did you provide staff training to support your impact tourism program?

Fathom created a new shipboard position, Impact Guides, who guided travelers through the entire seven‐day experience, making sure every guest was educated, prepared, comfortable and confident about the impact activities and excursions in the DR and the cultural experiences they chose in Cuba. By leading unique onboard workshops and team‐ building activities, Impact Guides helped strengthen travelers’ sense of self, community and social innovation. We recruited Impact Guides from around the world to ensure a diverse array of talents and experience, from Peace Corps volunteers and PhD candidates to those with non‐governmental organization (NGO) experience and professional organizational development experts. All shared one important attribute – a commitment to ensuring communities were better off after we left than when we arrived.

We developed an intense month‐long training program for our Impact Guides that took place in the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas (where Fathom’s ship Adonia was being refurbished) and on the ship. Training included ship safety and maritime regulations and procedures, immersion in all on‐shore social impact activities in the Dominican Republic, workshop content and delivery, customer service and information about the history and culture of the DR and Cuba.

Funding Model

How were funds raised from travelers? How did you solicit donations? How were funds distributed?

A meaningful portion of each passenger’s ticket price was redirected to our partner organizations in the DR to cover expenses, supplies, personnel and general operations. Fathom also invested start‐up capital with the partner organizations to establish improved operating models and facilities capacity.

Were donations tax deductible?

Any donations included with the shorex activities were not tax deductible as they were included as part of the travel experience delivery.  However, there were additional opportunities where Fathom raised donations on behalf of partners and those donations were fully tax deductible.

Do project funds go into a separate account or to a foundation to ensure transparency and separation from business revenue? If not, what is your process to ensure financial accountability of donated funds?

Yes, donations went into a separate bank account through the Dominican Foundation, our fundraising and distribution partner.

There were a few ways we solicited donations. 1) At the end an impact experience facilitators offered opportunities to stay engaged. For example, follow social media and consider donation opportunities to further support specific causes. 2) During final cohort meetings onboard the Fathom 7-day journey at sea, we would talk about opportunities to donate and/or stay engaged.

The Dominican Foundation, a 501c3, managed a website where travellers could donate to a specific activity or make a general donation towards impact activities. We also requested donations specifically for when Puerto Plata was flooded. Those funds went directly to the Dominican Foundation and never to Fathom.

Visitor Engagement

Did travelers visit project sites? Did you offer opportunities for voluntourism or material donations?

Yes, the entire focus and mission of Fathom was to offer travelers the opportunity to come alongside the people of the Dominican Republic to make a meaningful contribution to sustainable economic, environmental and educational initiatives in the local communities. Fathom’s Adonia docked in the DR for three plus days on each trip and offered a broad range of authentic, meaningful impact experiences. Travelers could participate in up to five impact activities. Some of the opportunities travelers had to choose from included: helping cultivate cacao plants at a nursery and assisting a local women’s cooperative in producing artisan chocolates; engaging in reforestation programs to promote environmental efforts; supporting local youth through conversational English activities; and building cement floors for families whose houses had only dirt flooring.

By bringing approximately 700 passengers to contribute three days a week every other week, we offered thousands of traveler impact partnership days per month to the communities we visited. Each passenger’s contribution, regardless of its size or length of duration, complemented that of hundreds of other passengers, creating a huge ripple effect that had a positive impact on the lives of many Dominicans.

Was impact tourism promoted or marketed to guests?

We promoted Fathom’s travel deep journeys on our website and in all advertising. Our messaging was focused on offering curious travelers, who want to make a difference in the world, accessible ways to take unconventional journeys. We invited travelers to come together to collaborate, be inspired, connect and share with local people.
For our DR journey, we shared how we spent extensive time bringing social impact experts together with local partners to develop programs that maximize sustainable impact in areas of education, environment and economic development. We invited travelers to join in and participate alongside locals, making relevant contributions that endure long after the trip ends. For Cuba, we promoted making history as the first travel company in more than 40 years to sail from the U.S. to Cuba and that we were providing travelers with opportunities to delve deeply into Cuba’s diverse and vibrant culture.

What type of educational opportunities and materials did you give to travelers?

Fathom designed an entire curriculum of unique, comprehensive onboard programming for our travelers. We offered educational sessions on the history, geography and culture of our destinations and on conversational Spanish; information and training for our DR impact activities and around the Cuban ethos to enable travelers to hit the ground running; interactive workshops on personal development such as storytelling, social innovation in action and the curiosity advantage; and how travelers could focus energy and resources towards volunteering and development long after the trip ended and they returned home. We provided materials at most of these sessions for travelers to take home, and the training and empowerment sessions took place over the course of three days traveling to and from the destination.

On each journey, our Impact Guides organized travelers into small community cohorts so they could learn and share with each other throughout the week in an intimate setting and form lasting bonds. These cohorts were one of the core ingredients for creating inspiring journeys and building lifelong friendships.

Community Perspectives

How did you ensure that your values and approach align with those of the community supported?

Our focus on lasting social impact is what made Fathom unique. Since we made regular trips to the DR, Fathom was able to build a long‐term partnership with local communities and partners, not just a one‐time trip with a short‐term spike of preparation. We believe that, to be sustainable, a project or activity needs to produce income. If you do not produce positive income, the project stops. That’s why we worked with cooperatives, like Chocal, to help them increase productivity and sales, so they could create a sustainable business model and afford to hire more local people. These activities have continued now with the participation of Carnival Corporation brands.

Do you engage in ongoing dialogue with the local community? If so, how?

Our local Dominican port operations team in the Dominican Republic employs approximately 100 local Dominicans and has regular engagement with the local community.  The port team has sponsored local baseball teams, supported musical and educational programs, and assisted in disaster relief efforts locally.  Carnival Corporation has a VP of Global Ports and Caribbean Government Relations that leads and is engaged in various ways in the communities where we travel within the Caribbean.

Jamaica Community Partner Feedback – comments from the Rastafari Indigenous Village, specifically from Edward Wray, aka First Man:

“You did not come to us saying “This is what we want to do. Instead you asked ‘How can we help you thrive? We want to allow people to connect with you; we want to learn what you’re doing and help you bring it out, for the world to experience. This we call a real partnership.”

Lessons Learned

Why do you feel your impact tourism program was successful?

Our research showed that many people long to make a difference in the world but have no idea where to begin. Fathom was a consumer‐friendly way for compassionate travelers to get hands‐on with community‐based social impact experiences. Our goal was to have a deep and lasting impact on our travelers, as well as on the communities with which we partnered. Travelers became believers, and many traveled with us as many as 10 times during the first 15 months of sailings. Although Fathom no longer sails a dedicated ship, we continue to engage with our Fathom travelers, who have become Fathom Alumni. Many continue to sail with sister brands and participate in experiences developed by Fathom.

Our community partners welcomed the opportunity to build new friendships, have new marketing channels via Fathom, identify new sources of revenue, and gain the assistance from larger networks of supporters. 

What challenges has your company faced in developing a successful program?

Identifying the right partners on the ground has always been complex, time and resource intensive.  Developing authentic relationships with the local community is costly, but important. 

Why do you feel it is important for the tourism industry to not only promote a product but to provide environmental and community support?

Our view is that philanthropy is important, but difficult to sustain. A market‐driven solution to a social impact challenge provides more sustainability in terms of human and financial capital, which are both critical to sustaining social missions. This is why we created social impact travel ‐‐ to provide the opportunity to build a community with like‐minded travelers eager to immerse in another culture and come alongside its people to create enduring social impact.

For more information contact: Tara Russell,

Carnival Sustainability Report

This Impact Tourism Handbook was made possible by generous financial support from Elevate Destinations, Hilton, Holbrook Travel, and Overseas Adventure Travel.