TAMPA, FLA — Cruise ships will once again set sail from The Port of Tampa for the first time in nearly a year. This is huge for the cruise industry, and local businesses.
The coronavirus pandemic impacted just about every business in the Tampa Bay area, and not in a good way.
“There were a lot of miserable days every day at work,” said Donald O’Neal.
O’Neal is the owner of Travel World. He’s been in business for more than 20 years. He said 2020 was “by far the worst year” for his business. A big chunk of their revenue came from cruise bookings.
“In 2019 we booked almost $8 million in cruises, last year we probably book about $300,000.”
Local restaurant and hotel owners are in the same boat. Even when the countries started to reopen businesses still had a hard time, especially those along Channel Side Dr. who depend on the port and cruise ships to bring in tourism revenue.
“Things are slowly starting to get better,” O’Neal said. “Cruise ships coming back is a good sign.”
Sebastien Rivas says the same thing. He owns Milkn’ It. It’s a new restaurant on Channel Side Dr, and it’s right across the street from the port. Milkn’ Opened last September, right in the middle of the pandemic. He said business has, shockingly, been great.
“It can only go up from here now that the port will be busy again,” he said.
Milkn’ It specializes in Cereal, but that’s not all.
“Cereal is the draw to get them in the door,” Rivas said. “We offer so much more: bagels, sandwiches, and specialty drinks.”
Rivas chose Channelside Dr. specifically because it’s directly across the street from the port.
“There will be thousands of tourists here leaving or coming back from their cruise, and a lot of them can stop here and see what we have to offer.” he said.
According to O’Neal thousands of people are booking cruises right now. He said they are projected to bring in at least $8-million to $10-million in cruise revenue this year, that’s only “if people don’t cancel.”
“Our problem [ travel agents], we don’t get paid until people travel. We’re doing a tremendous amount of work upfront hoping these people go,” he said. “If they don’t go, we don’t get paid.”
The first cruise ships are expected to be put out of the Port of Tampa in October.