Fathom, the social-impact cruise line Carnival Corp. launched in 2015, and the first cruise line to sail from the U.S. to Cuba since the 1960s, will shutter in mid-2017, with its one ship, the Adonia, returning to P&O Cruises. News editor Johanna Jainchill spoke with Fathom president Tara Russell about her plans to spread the Fathom concept to Carnival Corp.'s other brands

Q: Why do you think Fathom did not work as a standalone cruise line?

Tara Russell
Tara Russell

A: We introduced a new brand and a new category of travel and sort of pioneered this space and defined it as social-impact travel. We've looked at that language and asked if it is the right name and if people get a sense of what it's really about. We are looking at redefining the Fathom experience as "participatory travel." We are inviting travelers to participate in creative and innovative ways, taking them into the heart of a destination or an onboard experience and essentially asking them to put their toe in the water and get off the sidelines and into the game. One piece that's been confusing in the marketplace is what the Fathom experience is really like, and I don't know if there's thorough comprehension. There's a lot of education needed when you bring both a new brand to the marketplace and an entirely new category. As a small startup company, that has been a challenging task to accomplish.

Q: How will Fathom evolve as part of Carnival's other brands?

A: We've always thought of ourselves as software versus hardware and intended to serve the broader corporate platform through our nine sister brands. We are working with them on taking the Fathom experiences into their onboard and onshore offerings. It will depend what both the brand and the traveler for that brand is most uniquely positioned for. 

In [the Dominican Republic's] Amber Cove alone [Carnival Corp. will serve] about half a million travelers next year. Fathom coming every other week with a full ship would bring about 17,000 all year. So we're pretty excited about the ways we can scale both the Fathom travel experience there and far beyond. 

Q: Was it difficult to reach your intended targets, such as millennials, who don't cruise as much?

A: If you look at the demographics of who comes on Fathom trips you'll see people from age 8 to 90. What we have is a common psychographic, not so much a demographic. My sense is younger travelers are more skeptical to new brands and to experienced brands. What they want to know is that their own community has already bought into something before they jump on. I think experienced brands take time, and what it takes is me knowing someone who's been on the experience and they loved it, and then I become much more interested in the experience. 

Q: Your Cuba trips seemed to be doing really well. Did you consider making the ship Cuba-only?

A: Right now we're the only ones [cruising to Cuba], and that's fantastic, but that's not going to be the case forever. Havana and the island in general is getting busier. Traffic is picking up, and one aspect is how frequently we'd like to be there and the other when it's actually available for us. There is very limited capacity and infrastructure as it relates to Cuba. We looked at additional calls to Cuba, but we're only one side of the equation. We absolutely plan to sail through the end of May and into early June. You may see the potential of additional trips, and we are expecting our sister brands to travel to the island.

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