Cruise Line Takes Sustainability From Sea To Shore, Wins Award

cruise lineSustainable Travel International (STI) is a global non-profit charged to help destinations, businesses and travelers protect the environment, adapt to climate change, preserve cultural heritage and more. This week, STI awarded their first-ever, Gold-Level Eco-Certification to a cruise line, honoring Royal Caribbean International for attractions and tour operations at their island in the Bahamas, CocoCay.

Encouraging green travel, STI awards certification for businesses that are engaged in responsible travel practices that focus on economic, socio-cultural and environmental sustainability.

CocoCay is the first operation of its kind to receive the certification, which rates on-island tours, island operations, workplace practices, guest communications and environmental management policies. Rated by an expert third-party, independent of Sustainable Travel International and Royal Caribbean, the CocoCay operation demonstrated an ability to successfully apply its at-sea sustainability initiatives to its on-shore operations.But Royal Caribbean did not just get lucky. Winning the award took a global focus, much like we saw when sailing to their private destination of Labadee in Haiti, just after the major earthquake of a few years ago. Then, Royal Caribbean was self-charged to deliver thousands of pounds of food and supplies to the devastated island, which was also home to resident Royal Caribbean employees who work at Labadee when ships come calling.

“Royal Caribbean developed a very thorough, attainable action plan, designed to implement higher levels of sustainability over time,” said Robert Chappell, Sustainable Travel International’s Senior Director of Standards and Certification in a press release.

Will more cruise lines follow Royal Caribbean and work to get their own private islands certified green and sustainable? Probably. Other cruise lines as well have been working to make a green impact. By recycling cooking oil used on ships as fuel for vehicles on Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line is making a difference.

Princess Cruises shore power program made history debuting in environmentally sensitive Juneau, Alaska, in 2001, expanding to Seattle in 2005, and then to Vancouver in 2009. Currently nine of the line’s ships have the capability to “plug in” to a shore-side power source, representing an investment for Princess of nearly $7 million in equipment.

“I’m excited to see them expand their action plan while developing innovative new solutions that are leading the way in the cruise industry,” added Chappell.

STEP is among the first global standards to be formally recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay is the first cruise line private island to receive the certification.

Want to know more about Sustainable Travel International? Check this video:



[Photo Credit – Flickr user kuddlyteddybear2004]

Haiti Bills Itself As The Next Caribbean Vacation Hotspot

The Caribbean nation of Haiti is launching an ambitious campaign to market the country as a vacation hotspot. Unlike other islands in the region, which draw huge numbers of leisure travelers seeking sun and surf, Haiti is largely overlooked by tourists.

The country is one of the poorest in the Western hemisphere with around 80 percent of its people living in extreme poverty. It was thrown under the spotlight three years ago when an earthquake measuring 7.0 shook the country to its core. The event was a devastating blow to a country already rife with political problems, corruption and natural disasters.

Haiti’s minister of tourism, Stephanie Villedrouin, told NPR that tourism could help locals rebuild their lives and boost the country’s economy.”These revenues for our economy will help us eradicate poverty, and take out people [earthquake victims] from the tents. That’s the message. Don’t just send money through a wire or through an NGO for us. Come and experience Haiti because we have so much to showcase.”

Some of the attraction on offer for visitors are a National Museum, a rum distillery, traditional art, voodoo ceremonies and, of course, miles of Caribbean beach.

Despite that, the country faces a lot of challenges when it comes to marketing itself as a vacation destination. Streets are overflowing with trash and sewage, medical facilities are few and far between, and travelers face a high risk of crime. The US State Department has even issued a travel warning for the country.

As a result, few tourists to Haiti ever leave the fenced-off beach resort built by a cruise company on the island’s north. Getting travelers to step out of the bubble and into the rest of the country will require a massive expansion of the country’s tourism infrastructure. The government hopes to do that by investing in new hotels, airports and a school to train workers in the hospitality industry.

Listen to the full story here:




[Photo credit: Flickr user MichelleWalz]

Haiti tourism revival underway, in spite of itself

Haiti tourismHaiti is one of the most fascinating destinations in the Caribbean but travelers still stay away, more than two years after an earthquake nearly destroyed much of what they came to see in 2010. Now, conditions are beginning to improve in Haiti and a revival of tourism is underway.

A construction development now in progress in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince includes a recently-completed five-star Occidental Luxury Hotel. A Marriott hotel is also set to open in 2014. These are two of seven hotels on the books to be built in Haiti soon.

“Together, the projects add up to well over $100 million in new investment and will generate several thousand jobs in a nation still struggling to emerge from years of natural disasters and political turmoil,” says Bloomberg Business Week.

In order to further reinforce Haiti tourism revival, major airports are also being repaired and updated. The Port-au-Prince International Airport (PAP) is currently going through a multi-million dollar reconstruction project. Another airport, Cap-Haitien International Airport (CAP), is also scheduled to be launched in 2013.

These rebuilding efforts will draw funds from what is being called a “tourist card” which will be mandated to all non-Haitian vacationers and tourists.

Soon, anyone without a Haitian passport will be required to purchase a $10 tourist card upon arrival. Taxes will also increase from $25 to $55 on airline tickets, similar to that in the neighboring Dominican Republic.

“This approach will incorporate tax levies on various tourism prerequisites such as plane ticket prices,” says Tourism Reivew.

“Of course this would mean that tourists who wish to visit the country are expected to spend more than the usual, but the government and other tourism experts are convinced that this will eventually prove beneficial to all individuals and groups involved, especially for the people of Haiti.”

All this activity is the result of sustained and united efforts from the Haitian government, non-profit organizations, corporate entities, and the worldwide community.

Still, its a slow road to recovery in Haiti, bogged down further by reports of brutal rape and poverty, not exactly the worldwide image that lush, tropical tourist destinations need to flourish.

Slow Road to Reconstruction in Haiti


Flickr photo by by caribb

Haiti: the rocky road to recovery

HaitiHaiti was hit by a massive earthquake a little over two years ago, flattening homes, school buildings, and businesses; pretty much transforming the entire city of Port Au Prince into rubble. Relief efforts came and continue by non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) as nearly $5 billion in aid was promised and is being spent. But while there are ongoing success stories, half a million people are still living in camps they took refuge in right after the earthquake and they are not happy about it.

“The humanitarian response was so appreciated that few could have predicted two years later the long and deep thread of anger toward NGOs that now runs through Haitian society,” wrote Marjorie Valbrun, a Haitian-American journalist in the Sacramento Bee.

It was the topic of special television broadcasts. Cruise lines delivered supplies. Aid poured in. But was the worst natural disaster in the history of the Western Hemisphere, killing 316,000 people, and much work remains to be done.

Haiti’s crippling bureaucracy alone makes rebuilding a slow process and cause for anger by displaced Haitians but even foreign aid workers are easy targets for resentment.

“Aid workers live in nice houses, ride in air-conditioned SUVs and frequent trendy nightclubs while Haitians live in tents or shacks.” says Barbara Shelly who visited Haiti with a church group last summer and witnessed some of the hostility.

Haitian perception is that aid money is making others rich while they suffer. There is good reason to believe they may be right. Shelly’s research revealed that U.S. for-profit companies received more than 80 percent of the Haiti contracts awarded and less than 3 percent of the funds went to Haitian companies.

“Even before the quake, Haitians had a healthy suspicion of foreigners coming in “to help” or to “keep the peace,” which usually meant imposing military rule,” said Shelly.

On the success-story side, there have been some good, solid efforts to aid Haiti too recently.

Last weekend, a gala dinner organized by Cinema for Peace to benefit Haiti, tapped long-time humanitarian Sean Penn, founder of the J/P Haitian Relief Organization and newly-appointed ambassador at large of Haiti along with Indy band Arcade Fire and others to raise more money.

Arcade Fire, led by Win Butler and his Haitian wife, Régine Chassagne, have been donating a few dollars from every concert ticket to Haitian relief efforts reports the New York Times.

“We’re just a stupid indie rock band from Montreal, and just from that initiative, we’ve been able to raise millions of dollars,” Butler said. “It’s really a mistake to think of Haiti as a place where an earthquake happened to it.”

“The earthquake really revealed what was happening there,”said Butler …which pretty much nails it.

Haiti was in trouble before the earthquake. But ongoing efforts by long-time supporters of Haiti seem to be making a difference and look to be a key factor in long-term recovery.

  • The American Red Cross is helping people rebuild their homes and lives and is improving communities with health, water and sanitation projects.
  • World Vision is helping the country respond to new emergencies including hurricanes and the cholera outbreak.
  • Royal Caribbean continues to employ Haitian workers at it’s private destination of Labadee in Haiti, has built a school for children and continues to bring supplies when ships come calling.

That’s three organizations making a difference but probably not the answer for those who choose to give. At that gala dinner, Arcade Fire’s Butler called on the crowd to collaborate in offering help.

“Everyone just talk to each other,” he said, “and try to magnify each others’ efforts.”

That might very well be a key to Haiti’s long-term recovery. It sure can’t hurt.



Volunteer to Teach English in Haiti

Flickr photo by newbeatphoto

World’s worst places: Top 10 places you do not want to visit in 2012

Update: Check out the World’s Worst Places of 2013 here

What comes to mind when you think of the world’s worst place? While it is easy to complain about rural Wal-marts, La Guardia, Applebee’s, and any government office with motor vehicle in its title, none of those places escalate the game from nuisance to immediate danger. All of them can be horrible, yes, but a threatened existence they do not pose.

The places on this list are the bad places. Some have run out of hope. Others have fought war for so long it is the new normal. Most are exceptionally dangerous and heartbreaking. And while none of them are fighting for write-ups by travel bloggers or inspiring travel with the NetJet set, some of these locations may someday be on the travel map. After all, it was not long ago that current hot-spots like Cambodia and Croatia would have made such a list.

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world's worst places

10. Harare, Zimbabwe
Recently voted by the Economist as the world’s worst city to live in, Harare is a unique study in failed fiscal policy. The once acceptable city fell into disrepair during Zimbabwe’s severe bouts with hyperinflation and corruption. The troubles began in the early 21st century when Zimbabwe’s inflation rate increased to 112.1%. Sounds terrible right? As it turns out, those were the sunny days. In 2008, the inflation rate peaked at 231,150,000% per annum. In U.S. terms, this means that if you deposited $10,000, it would be worth about 4 thousandths of a U.S. cent in one years time. That sucks. (For the record, 10,000USD = 46.720 quadrillion Zimbabwe dollars in 2009.)

This sort of economic arrangement allowed Harare to fail. There are not enough printers in Zimbabwe to print enough of its Z100 Billion notes, and when a loaf of bread costs trillions, doom is soon to follow. Unemployment grew to 80% and many services faltered. Today, foreign currencies have been adopted but the damage has been done. Much of Harare is in disrepair, and few foreign companies care to directly invest in the troubled city. That said, it is probably the safest place on this list to visit with flights direct from London on the national carrier – Air Zimbabwe.

world's worst places

9. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
The lone entry from Oceania is the ultra-diverse Port Moresby of Papua New Guinea. PNG is home to over 820 languages – more than any other country in the world. As such, its capital Port Moresby boasts a diverse crew of opportunists and island cultures. It was recently voted by the Economist as the 137th out of 140 places in the livable cities index, making it a tough place to get by.

Rapes, Murders, and HIV are just a few of the daily tragedies that befall this enclave at the edge of the map. Here, even riding in cars is a dangerous activity. Gangs called Raskols are known to rob vehicles transporting foreigners at gunpoint.

Port Moresby is best used as a temporary gateway to nearby dive sites and for flights to PNG’s jungle interior and its solitary treks. Reaching Port Moresby is easy from Australia on PNG’s national carrier Air Niugini.

world's worst places

8. Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
37 years ago, Ali and Foreman traded blows in one of boxing’s most historic matches. The match took place in Kinshasa. At the time, the country was known as Zaire, and the future looked hopeful for the mineral-rich nation. But as is common in 20th century African history, corruption at the top derailed the future. The country became a model for African kleptocracy as President Mobutu matched Zaire’s national debt with deposits into his personal bank account in Switzerland – to a tune of 4 billion (1980) U.S. dollars. He was forced to flee in the late nineties.

By 1998, the Congo region was engaged in the Second Congo War – the most deadly military conflict since World War II. In the end, over 5 million perished, and to this day the mineral-rich country has a per capita (nominal) GDP of about $186.

Chinese foreign direct investment has allowed Kinshasa to grow into a more reasonable place over the last decade, though it is not yet ready for its tourist close-up. Violence and political instability still ravage the second most populated city in Africa. It has come a long way from the time of Mr. Kurtz, but the heart of Africa is still an exceptionally complicated place. Just a month ago during the presidential election, thousands fled Kinshasa in anticipation of violence, and tanks rolled in to police the streets.

Tens of thousands of orphaned street children call the slums of Kinshasa home and are also routinely accused of witchcraft by locals. Carjackings are one of the more common types of tourist robbery, especially outside of the city center. And one more thing, photography is illegal.

Reaching Kinshasa is easy from Paris on Air France.

world's worst places

7. Rocinha favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro. While its infrastructure exceeds that of lesser favelas and its view of Rio is truly breathtaking, it is also home to several hundred thousand Brazilians packed onto a steep hillside. It is a playground for modern day little Li’l Zes.

With one of the highest murder rates in the world, Brazil has been cracking down on violence in anticipation of hosting both the Olympics and World Cup. In fact, local authorities have effectively declared war on this slum in an effort to clean it up and push out the drug cartels, and just a few months ago, Rocinha was occupied by the military and police forces. Their aim is to restore government control in the sprawling favela. While progress has no doubt been made, when visiting Rio (which is generally safe), it is wise to avoid favelas unless accompanied by a local guide.

world's worst places

6. Sana’a, Yemen
“Just off the horn of Africa…” is a common statement that generally precedes a story about modern piracy. And just on the other side of the dangerous Gulf of Aden where such piracy goes down is treacherous Yemen – a land frozen in time.

It is a time machine to the modern edge of the Islamic dark ages. On one hand this brings old world Arabian architecture and cultures of antiquity, but on the other, it brings out Islamic fanaticism. It is a place of child brides and a training ground for Al Qaeda. Men walk around freely with weapons per their religious rights, and these weapons range from the ubiquitous Jambiya to battle-worn Kalashnikovs. Sana’a is old, dangerous, and has its share of political unrest. As a westerner, you can keep your travel plans safer by avoiding Yemen.

The tragic thing about Yemen is that it possesses such beautiful sights. It has unbelievable Red Sea beaches, Socotra Island (Similar to the Galapagos and on my own personal travel shortlist), and old forts amid craggy mountains.

Reaching Sana’a, Yemen is possible from Dubai, Doha, London, and Sharjah.

world's worst places

5. West Point, Monrovia, Liberia
Clean water, electricity, basic services – all things we take for granted in the West. In the West Point area of Monrovia, a city named for James Monroe, these are luxuries. West Point, a peninsular slum jutting out into the Atlantic, is home to a special breed of disgusting squalor. Home to 75,000 Monrovians, it is one of Africa’s most notorious and crowded slums. Cholera is at an epidemic level, drug use is rampant, teenage prostitution is a commonality, and toilets are scarce. In fact, since it costs money to use neighborhood toilets, many Monrovians in West Point just crap in the streets or on the beach.

Vice did a great series on Liberia a few years ago. In the series, they meet with with an ex-war leader known as General Butt Naked – the commander of a group of child soldiers called the Butt Naked Brigade. He earned this name by charging into battle wearing only sneakers and his AK-47. Aside from sacrificing humans and partaking in cannibalism, he also regularly communicated with the devil. Today, he is a minister.

Delta flies from Atlanta to Monrovia, Liberia.

world's worst places

4. Ciudad Juarez, Mexico
Just as turbulence occurs where hot and cold air meet, similarly a point of human turbulence occurs in this nasty city where Mexico meets the United States. Drug violence, government incompetence, and poverty mix to form what has been called the murder capital of the world (this dishonor has since been ceded to Honduras). As drug wars continue to rage, Juarez continues to be a dangerous place. The drug cartels continue to fight for one of the most valuable things in the world – access to the United States narcotics market.

Neighboring El Paso, oddly, has one of the lowest murder rates in the United States. In fact, among major cities, El Paso is tied with Lincoln, Nebraska for having the lowest murder rate in the United States. It is indeed strange to have such a dichotomy separated by a river.

Flying to Juarez from a number of cities is easy, but don’t do it. Go to Cancun and fist pump instead.

world's worst places

3. Cite Soleil, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Take one of the most damned places on the planet, knock the hell out of it with an earthquake, and you get the worst of Haiti – Cite Soleil. Port-au-Prince is generally a place of ephemeral hope and naked truths, and at its most rotten corner is this heartbreaking slum.

Cite Soleil is one of the largest slums in the northern hemisphere. It is a place where what you see is what you get, and what you see is abject third world poverty. The slum is void of sewers, schools, electricity, or healthcare facilities. It is the kind of place where relief workers are swallowed whole by the earth. In 2007, UN peacekeepers attempted to access the neighborhood and were welcomed with gunfire.

On top of this, many dangerous gang members escaped prison during the earthquake of 2010 and have returned to this crumbling slum. Reach PAP, Haiti from Miami on Insel Air.

world's worst places

2. Kandahar, Afghanistan
Surrounded by gorgeous mountains, it is a tragedy that Kandahar is so awfully dangerous. A one time trading center and strategic foothold, Kandahar is a victim of its perfect location between the world’s of East and West. It has been a point of interest since Alexander the Great stumbled upon it in the 4th century BC. For centuries, traders passed through this city when traveling between Asia and Europe. As result, wars have also passed through and control has changed hands over its centuries of existence, from Mongols to Arabs to Brits and beyond.

Kidnappings, suicide bombings, and other criminal activities have turned it into an absolute monster of a destination. War has a way of creating this sort of general lawlessness. Having a 28% national literacy rate does not help matters.

As a weird footnote, Kandahar has an Armani Hotel, though it is not licensed by Giorgio. Its TGI Fridays, once a bastion of Americana and cheese sticks in Afghanistan, has allegedly been shut down. One can reach Kandahar from Dubai on Ariana Afghan Airlines. During Taliban rule, Osama bin Laden used this airline for Al Qaeda operations including the smuggling of guns, money, and opium. Today, sanctions have been lifted against the troubled national carrier.

world's worst places

1. Mogadishu, Somalia
Still crazy after all these years, “Mog” has perhaps the most terrifying disclaimer (ever) hovering above its entry on wikitravel. It states, “Mogadishu is regarded as the most lawless and dangerous city on Earth and is currently experiencing a major food and refugee crisis. It is not safe for leisure or tourism. If you are planning a visit for international aid work, etc, you will need expert advice and planning.”

Civil War has raged for decades, and the government controls only a few blocks of the city. It is a base for modern pirates, the backdrop for the true story surrounding Black Hawk Down, and it is said that machine guns are frequently used by drivers to negotiate through car traffic. It is a land without law, a soulless place at the edge of Africa. Much of it bears more resemblance to the last level in an especially difficult video game than to life on Earth. It is more modern warfare than modern world.

Oddly enough, several supermodels were born in Mogadishu including Iman and Yasmin Warsame – a footnote of beauty for an ugly place. Flights to Mog can be booked on Jubba Airways from Jeddah and Dubai. Good luck with that. Seriously though, if you decide to go, be sure to wear a bulletproof vest and hire a small army of Ethiopian soldiers.