NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The coronavirus pandemic has impacted almost every industry, but arguably one of the hardest hit is the travel and tourism sector.
In Hampton Roads, cruise ships haven’t sailed in or out in more than a year. Guests spend millions of dollars at local businesses when they’re docked in Norfolk.
Carnival President Christine Duffy spoke during a virtual event hosted by the CIVIC Leadership Institute.
Duffy said cruises will start sailing out of Norfolk once again starting in May 2022.
After more than a year on pause, the cruise line is anxiously waiting to welcome passengers back on board in Norfolk.
“Our team is ready to sail again,” Duffy said.
The company and the city had just signed a five-year deal right before the pandemic hit.
Duffy said the industry is waiting for guidance from the CDC on when they can resume operations.
Despite the delay, the future looks promising.
“Our booking pace is better for 2022 than it was in 2019, and 2019 was one of our best years,” Duffy said.
Carnival Magic, the biggest ship to ever sail from Norfolk, will make 11 voyages between May and October of next year.
The city invested nearly $5 million to replace the cruise terminal passenger boarding bridge. Duffy said the Norfolk port is a strong market for the company.
“People can drive or people find it very accessible and much easier than having to get on a plane,” she said. “The cruise terminal and the experience in the hospitality that people receive in a community is very important to us and Norfolk gets A-plus marks for that.”
She is hopeful cruise-goers will bring a much-needed boost to the local tourism and hospitality industry.
“They stay in the hotel, they go out to dinner, they see the sights and maybe they get to experience a town or a community that they’ve never been before,” Duffy said.
So what can passengers expect once it’s time to set sail again? It’s not quite clear until the company gets word from the CDC, however, Duffy said Carnival will likely limit capacity.
She also said COVID-19 vaccines will be encouraged but not required.
“Unless it’s a mandate from CDC, it’s not something we’ve introduced at this point for Carnival cruise line,” Duffy said.
We’re told Carnival crew members will also be encouraged to get the vaccine if they can.