MIAMI: The best way to help Bahamians affected by Hurricane Dorian is to book a trip to the islands, according to Royal Caribbean VP and chief communications officer Robert Zeiger.
Images of devastated Bahama Islands have occupied the news cycle, but much of the destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian is limited to the Grand Bahama Island and the Abacos islands. So Royal Caribbean’s comms team is making sure the public is aware that a number of popular destinations remain open, such as Nassau and CocoKay, said Tracy Quan, the company’s associate VP of global PR.
Tourists are an essential component to the Bahamas’ economy that generate about 60% of its revenue, directly and indirectly. A full and swift recovery will depend on the Bahamas’ ability to attract tourists back to its paradise islands.
"It’s on top of our minds in our comms with everyone," Quan said. "The best thing you can do for the Bahamas is to continue to visit the islands. When people ask what we can do to help, that’s what we tell them now. We remind them that the Bahamas is back in business. Yes, an island is devastated, but there are many, many others they can visit."
Royal Caribbean’s "open for business" line has been part of all of its messaging in interviews with travel trade publications and Bahamas media, Zeiger said via email. The company’s CEO Michael Bayley also delivered a speech to a national conference of travel agents in Austin, Texas, this month on the topic.
This messaging is also reflected in Royal Caribbean’s direct communications to travel partners, guests and loyalty members, said Quan.
"Our executives have also been loud and clear that some significant investments in The Bahamas are full speed ahead, even accelerated," Zeiger said.
Royal Caribbean is doubling down on bolstering the Bahamas’ tourism industry through such projects as the redevelopment of the Grand Lucayan resort in Freeport, Zeiger and Quan said. Meanwhile, the company is heavily recruiting Bahamians to staff its ships and resorts.
Zeiger said Weber Shandwick is handling media relations and logistics, while Connecticut-based marketing firm OverAbove is overseeing multimedia. Nassau-based Diane Phillips & Associates is working with Bahamian media.
While coordinating with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, Royal Caribbean has also been shuttling tens of thousands of meals, bottles of water and other supplies into the affected areas.
"One of the things we’re good at is feeding thousands of people every day," Zeiger said. "It’s not a superpower you think of very often, but it’s exactly the one needed in [these areas]."
Royal has put its ships on a rotating schedule to briefly stop at the shattered city in Grand Bahama to deliver 23,000 meals every day, Zeiger explained. The company is trying to set up a field kitchen there as well.
At the start of the crisis, Royal Caribbean evacuated its 500 employees from the Bahamas. It reached out to the Pan American Development Foundation and the Bahamas Feeding Network to better understand what supplies they needed. From there, the cruise line has been working with its supply chain to make sure those needs are met.
After Hurricane Dorian made landfall on Abaco on September 1 and the Grand Bahama Island a day later, Royal Caribbean began its food prep on September 4 in a "breathtaking" effort, Zeiger said.
On each ship, an average of 300-400 employees participated in cooking hot food, making sandwiches and packaging it all together, while employees on shore at Royal Caribbean’s Miami headquarters worked four-hour shifts doing the same.
Ships mid-journey changed their itineraries to deliver goods to Freeport while the crew updated their thousands of passengers on the company’s disaster relief efforts.
"[Passengers] were writing notes to include with the care packages, they were applauding our volunteers unloading the ships and posting on social media," Zeiger said.
Some guests even left clothes behind, so Royal Caribbean could launder and clean them to send to people on the island, Quan added.
Royal Caribbean pledged to match every customer and employee donation to Pan American Development Foundation. Last week, the company crossed the $500,000 mark. In addition, the company is making a $1 million gift.
This was not the first time Royal Caribbean supported disaster relief efforts during hurricane season. Zeiger said two years ago the company assisted the rescue of hundreds of abandoned animals after Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico and St. Maarten by partnering with Petco, PetSmart and PETA.
"We have a group called the Go team, which is a group of about 100 employees, who are amazing people who can sit at any desk here in Miami or any other office around the world," Zeiger said. "The basic deal is they get some training and on ten minutes’ notice we can put you on a plane to go someplace where help is needed."