Millions lost as cruise ship skips Kenya due to protests

Members of the National Assembly Tourism Committee during an inspection of the Cruise-ship terminal at the Mombasa Port on March 30, 2023.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit I Nation Media Group

A cruise ship destined for the port of Mombasa changed its destination to Tanzania due to the ongoing political tension and insecurity in the country.

The change of route is a big blow to the sector that has been on an upward trend as stakeholders urged President William Ruto and Opposition chief Raila Odinga to resolve the current political impasse, saying it is hurting tourism.

The MV Seabourn Sojourn, sailing from Mahe, Seychelles, with 800 tourists will now dock in Zanzibar and Dar el Salaam for six days before sailing to South Africa.

According to the ship’s itinerary, it began its voyage Miami, Florida in January. 

The voyage will end on May 27 in Barcelona, Spain, and Kenya was on the itinerary.

Kenya Ports Authority's principal corporate communication officer Hajj Masemo confirmed that the ship has changed course.  

“We have lost a lot of money as the cruise ship industry. From the studies in the past, when arriving on a cruise ship, each passenger spends a minimum of about 200 dollars a day. For three days that’s 600 dollars, then there are crews, we have lost 800,000 dollars assuming each would have spent that amount,” said Mr Masemo.

The National Assembly Departmental Committee on Tourism and Wildlife led by Kareke Mbiuki, who met port cruise ship stakeholders at the port of Mombasa said Kenya has lost millions of shillings due to the cancellation.

Separately, Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Peninah Malonza said most international tourists have cancelled their travel and hotel bookings to Kenya after last Monday’s protest which paralysed businesses in the capital Nairobi. 

Kenya has been banking on revival of the delicate cruise ship industry to re-awaken the sector after struggling throughout the Covid-19 period.

The Mbiuki committee, which is on a five-day coast region inspection visit to flagship projects of the Ministry of Wildlife, Tourism, and Heritage said the Sh1.3 billion modern cruise ship terminal is unlikely to be used due to bad politics.

“We appreciate our world-class facility which is being managed by KPA. Post Covid-19 period, we have so far received around four cruises. We were expecting another cruise in mid-April but unfortunately, the vessel has been canceled due to the current state of our country,” said Mr Mbiuki.

He said the weekly opposition protests are hurting the tourism sector.

“Because you know tourism is extremely sensitive in terms of security of the tourists and operators, it is extremely unfortunate that out of whatever is arising in the country or the tension we have lost the cruise ship. We urge political leaders to tone down, work together to revive the sector which was on its deathbed during the pandemic,” he added.

Tourist numbers were surging after the pandemic, with the state and other players embarking on marketing Kenya globally to attract international tourists.

“It is extremely frustrating for the government to use a lot of money to market the country to attract tourists then lose the critical number which was supposed to come here. The demonstrations are completely killing this country, we are all political leaders, let's sit down, there’s no harm in talking to each other for the sake of this economy,” said the MP.

Ms Malonza called for an end to the protests.

“The effects of demonstrations are already being felt by hotels as they have scared away tourists, mostly international visitors who have cancelled their bookings, which is a very bad thing for the country’s economy,’’ Ms Malonza said at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute where she hosted Kitui leaders for consultative meeting. 

Ms Malonza said because tourism is one of the highest foreign exchange earners, the country’s overall economy will slow down if the protests continue. 

“No tourist will travel to a country where they feel their safety is not guaranteed or they are likely to run into rioting mobs, and therefore, it is obvious that Kenya is losing huge tourism business to neighbouring countries that are peaceful,’’ she explained. 

She said unless Azimio leaders call off the demonstrations, there will be massive job losses in the hotel industry in the coming weeks, coupled with depressed tax revenues and more economic pain for all Kenyans. 

On its website, the Seabourn Sojourn is sailing for 140 days, visiting 58 ports in 27 countries and six continents with 12 overnights.

The tourists are enjoying the world cruise with an intensive exploration of the South Pacific, with kayaking, snorkeling and trekking options in different countries.

Tourism stakeholders, led by the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers (KAHC), Coast Executive Officer, Dr Sam Ikwaye, and hotelier Mohammed Hersi termed the cancellation of the ship’s Mombasa stop a major blow. 

“People who were coming for safari in our national parks have told us they are not coming anymore because the cruise ship has cancelled coming to Mombasa. Industry players said they were to get massive accommodation in Tsavo national park, which has since been cancelled,” said Mr Hersi.