NORFOLK, Va. — People are taking to the skies, but not setting sail just yet. The CDC still has a conditional sail order in the United States.
But there is hope on the horizon!
The deal with Carnival Cruise Line and the City of Norfolk is still on. Carnival’s president joined Hampton Roads business leaders Thursday to let them know bookings for next year are taking off!
2020 was stormy for the cruise industry and the 757.
“A huge economic hit for this region,” said Nauticus Executive Director Stephen Kirkland.
Major U.S cruise lines last set sail in March 2020. Kirkland said Norfolk missed out on 70 cruise ships.
“Forty in 2020 and 30 this year,” Kirkland said.
The Half Moone Cruise Center might sit empty for a few more months. Kirkland said they don’t expect any cruise ships in 2021 but have bookings for 2022.
In February 2020, Carnival committed ships to sail from the Mermaid City through 2025. Kirkland said the deal stands.
“Carnival is committed to Norfolk,” Kirkland said. “We are committed to Carnival.”
Carnival President Christine Duffy updated local business leaders. The company is urging the CDC to lift restrictions.
“To address where we are today and how we can get the cruise industry sailing from the U.S. in time for summer,” Duffy said.
Sailing will likely start slow, with smaller capacities. However, 2022 is filling fast.
“Our booking pace is better for 2022 than it was in 2019,” Duffy said. “2019 was one of our best years.”
ODU’s Dragas Center reports hotel revenue in 2019 nearly hit $900 million but dropped to $578 million in 2020.
“$314 million is a significant loss,” said ODU Professor Dr. Vinod Agarwal.
Dr. Agarwal predicts the tourist season will boom this year but said many owners tell him they are struggling to hire.
“It will be tough, but businesses are very creative,” Dr. Agarwal said.
He believes the rise in minimum wages starting May 1 will help. The employment commission now also requires applicants to look for jobs.
“The hospitality sector is ready to move on,” Dr. Agarwal said.
Kirkland said the average passenger spends $125 in Norfolk.
“We’ve got 80,000 passengers, Carnival alone next year,” Kirkland said. “That is $10 million in spending.”
He thinks passengers are ready to "seas the day."
“You can see them eating down the street at D’Egg before they come over for a cruise for the Bahamas,” Kirkland said. “You can see them all over town, and that is a big impact for this community.”
Looking at Carnival's website, the earliest sailings available from Norfolk take off in May 2022. The five-year deal will also bring the Carnival Magic, the largest ship to sail from Norfolk.