When Chuck Maida returned from his Fathom trip to the Dominican Republic last spring he felt energized and rewarded, he said, and can't wait to go back. And he realized something else: Fathom, Carnival Corp's social-impact brand, “is the most misunderstood travel product out there today.”
People who call Fathom “a product that is trying to turn people into do-gooders are wrong. It couldn't be further from the truth and I think Fathom has gotten a bum rap from some of the press,” he said.
“When you're working side by side with people on community activities, it's not like you're touring Europe and listening to a tour guide. You're interacting and cutting up and talking with local people. And you're getting to know your fellow passengers on a whole different level.”
Maida’s Fathom clients are mostly families, and the Adonia has no kids club, no casino, no showroom—but “it really appeals to people who have done all of that and want something different. It's not only for adults either. It's good for pre-teens, teenagers and young adults.”
Indeed, when he took his 25-year-old son, with whom he “doesn't always see eye to eye,” on a Fathom cruise, “we got along all week and had a great time.”
Maida suggested that agents looking to sell Fathom should pitch it to clients who don't think of themselves as cruisers.
“This is not necessarily a cruise—it just uses a cruise ship as the mode of transportation,” since the Adonia docks for three days at Amber Cove while passengers participate in a choice of activities, such as teaching English in a school, working in a paper recycling operation, or making water filters for local homes, he said.
Fathom also appeals to those who have cruised “again and again and again,” and are looking for something different. “I'd much rather do these activities than a snorkel excursion. No matter what island you go to in the Caribbean there are only so many things you can do, and they are all very similar,” he said.
Maida owns All Seasons Travel, in Jacksonville, FL, a member of the Ensemble Travel Group. On his Fathom trip Maida served as an Ensemble host, and he will do so again next April. He said he's optimistic he will sell 20 cabins on that trip, and his personal experience from his trip will help him do that.
Ricki Levine, who runs Cruising With Ricki, an Avoya Network agency in Sarasota, FL, will experience Fathom for the first time in December, and she's already sold two cabins to clients who will join her on the trip.
“One couple is interested in volunteering,” she said, “and the other just wants to sit on the beach where the ship docks at Amber Cove. You can do that—it’s in Fathom's own literature—you can do as little or as much as you want to. And the prices for Florida residents are really good.”
Levine said that when she pitches Fathom to clients she likens the experience to Habitat for Humanity, the nationwide sweat-equity homebuilding program for affordable housing. “People know what that is and they are willing to listen,” she said.
Since she doesn't yet have first-hand knowledge of the Fathom product, Levine called and spoke to Fathom reps who explained the concept to her. The agent had traveled to Cuba with Fathom, so she can speak to the level of service and food onboard the Adonia, both of which she thought were excellent.
“The only part I have a problem with is that there isn't much in the way of entertainment on the ship at night. And sea-day activities were about New Age type of things—choosing your spirit animal, finding your super power. Nobody whom I know, whom I sell to, is interested in that. So it's a little detrimental to selling it.”
Sandy Anderson, owner of Riverdale Travel Leaders, in Coon Rapids, MN, said she has a few clients who are thinking about booking Fathom to the Dominican Republic. “I have been on it. It's not a harder sell, it's a different sell. I was totally impressed by it myself. The ship is beautiful and the philosophy is really genuine—giving back and making an impact,” she said.
It's a niche product to be sure, though, she added. “I've pitched it to a younger demographic and to intrepid travelers, to clients looking for girlfriend getaways, as college-graduation gifts and to those who want sun and fun but also want to make an impact,” she said.
And it's a good product to offer to clients who want a land component coupled with time at sea.
“I'm very optimistic I'll get people onboard because it's a very unique experience,” she said.
Stella Larson of Montrose Travel affiliate Windmill Travel in Alba, TX, was so impressed by her experience that she would rank it in the top five of all 63 cruises she has ever taken—“everything from Carnival to Regent and Silversea. It’s not because of super-luxury, but for how you feel during and after the cruise. I love selling Fathom.”
By the numbers
According to Fathom, to date, Fathom travelers working with local Dominicans have collectively:
* Provided about 17,500 hours of English interaction to individual adult and youth students.
* Produced and installed 730 water filters in community homes, impacting the health and well-being of thousands of local Dominicans.
* Planted more than 16,000 seedlings and plants, offsetting the environmental impact of travelers coming to the region.
* Installed concrete floors in 40 homes, improving the living environments for hundreds of local Dominicans.
* Cleaned 3,700 pounds of cacao nibs, which translates to more than 109,000 finished chocolate bars, and wrapped, packaged and prepared for sale more than 57,400 products.
* Produced more than 9,800 sheets of recycled paper.