NORFOLK, Va. -- When the cruise port here revamped its Web site, it decided to offer a consumer booking link, so it employed a unique booking engine: Maria Wallace.

"Booking your cruise from Norfolk is easy," reads the copy on the Cruise Norfolk homepage, at "Call ... and ask for Maria Wallace."

Wallace is a travel agent at CI Travel, a division of Cruise International and a retail and government travel company headquartered across the street from Nauticus, the Norfolk cruise terminal.

"I really hadn't thought about it," Wallace said about having her name and work phone posted on a Web site. "I'm just excited about cruises from Norfolk."

Stephen Kirkland, Nauticus' cruise operations and marketing manager, said his intent was to personalize the booking option to make it more user-friendly.

"We said, we need one point person: 'Call Jenny' or 'call Sue,' " Kirkland said. "We really wanted to focus on the passengers."

Nauticus, which is a city-run pier and science museum (its full name is Nauticus, the National Maritime Center), does its travel business through CI Travel. So a partnership with the agency seemed logical, Kirkland said.

Mickey Hawks, CI's vice president of retail operations, said the company has "nothing to lose" by posting its name -- and Wallace's name -- on the Cruise Norfolk site, although Nauticus gets a small cut of the commission, which Kirkland said will go into marketing.

Consumers who contact CI Travel through the site will get "at least a group rate," Hawks said.

"We block space on every sail date," she said. "Because we are such a big seller out of Norfolk, we always have enough people to get [space] onboard."

The new site had been live for only a few days when Hawks spoke with, and she said she had not gotten any requests from the site. But Wallace said she'd had a couple of hits -- just a few brochure requests from potential passengers outside the Richmond area.

The Cruise Norfolk site offers some new features for agents who have passengers interested or booked out of Norfolk, such as driving and parking directions and contact information.

It also offers a schedule of cruise departures and Norfolk visitor information.

The site was redeveloped to focus on selling cruises to travelers instead of selling Norfolk to the cruise lines, which was Cruise Norfolk's original focus.

The booking option, Kirkland added, "was spurred from my getting calls from tons of people -- my name used to be on our Web site -- and I'd get dozens of calls a week from people who'd ask, 'How can I book out of Norfolk?' "

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].


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