Kenya’s Sh1.3 billion modern cruise ship terminal is lying idle at the Port of Mombasa nearly three years after its completion as tourism stakeholders urge the government to start aggressively marketing the sector internationally, while targeting the local market.
Kenya started building the cruise terminal starting 2016 to attract and boost international tourism to the Coastal hub.
The terminal features a three-storey building and has facilities similar to airports comprising duty-free shops, lounges, restaurants, conference facilities and officers for key stakeholders, including port health, logistics and immigration.
Yesterday, Kenya Ports Authority Principal Corporate Communication Officer Haji Masemo said the terminal is ready for use.
“The Covid-19 pandemic is still a challenge. The Sea Trade Global Convention kicked off this year after a two-year break following the pandemic, where industry players deliberated on the revival of the cruise sector.
“The business was expected to resume but due to the fresh outbreak of the virus globally, our hopes of getting cruises sailing again, especially in Africa, have been a challenge,” Mr Masemo explained.
Cruise tourism took a hit in 2020 when British-registered Diamond Princess recorded a major Covid-19 outbreak with more than 3,000 passengers and crew on board.
The ship was forced to quarantine in Yokohama, Japan, for about a month.
Mr Masemo said KPA is collaborating with the Cruise Africa Association to improve the sector.
"We are also engaging port management of Eastern and Southern Africa and developing the cruise ship sector to promote this region as one destination. We hope once coronavirus goes down, we will go to Europe and the US with our members to trumpet our destination. Marcelle handles over 200,000 passengers. The expert will help Kenya with marketing strategy to ensure the East African nation gets ships docking in the region,” he said.
Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC) CEO Mike Macharia said the terminal should be put to use.
“Our cruise ship terminal was ready but we were affected when the pandemic hit, which was first reported in a cruise ship. So, obviously, that market slowed down a bit. We have begun marketing the terminal in conjunction with the Kenya Tourism Board. The only problem is that cruise ships were taking very old people and those were vulnerable because they were adversely affected by the virus,” said Mr Macharia.
However, he said the sector is slowly recovering globally.
According to Mr Macharia, a tourism expert, Kenya’s modern cruise ship terminal can be home to specific vessels because it is large.
“It’s something that we just need to be patient about. But KAHC is conducting vigorous marketing. Before the terminal was fixed in the 1970s and 1980s we had at least one ship a month at the Kilindini harbour. If we go by one ship a month, we will see more people coming into Mombasa. We bring them by air, road, Standard Gauge Railway and ships,” he added.
Mr Macharia said Kenya’s cruise ship tourism was affected by piracy on its waters. However, it was eradicated through concerted efforts by the government and international bodies.
The official urged investors to tap into the commercial cruise ship business.
“In Mombasa it's only Tamarind that does something on its bay. This is a commercial decision for an investor to venture into this very lucrative business,” he advised.
Maritime expert Andrew Mwangura said cruise ships are a lucrative venture that can earn the government a lot of money and further create employment.
However, the government, through the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife is yet to issue any statement on how it is preparing for cruising.
The players urged investors to tap into the local cruise ship industry and take advantage of the new terminal lying idle at the port.
Currently, in Kenya, the government requires tourists to show a negative Covid-19 PCR certificate when entering and departing.
Cruise tourism is one of the fastest-growing maritime sectors in the world.
Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala recently said Kenya will tap into its enormous Indian Ocean resource and potential to generate more income.
Tourism players, led by the Kenya Association of Tour Operators (Kato), want the government to put in place a mechanism to attract private investors in the sea transport business to boost the sector and create jobs.
Kato chairman Ishpal Oberoi cited Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, which are thriving in the sea transport sector.
“We operated as agents in the 1990s for hydrofoils (type of boat) between Zanzibar and Mombasa. It was killed off by the clashes of Kaya Bombo 1997/98. Currently, as the Kato board with the Ministry of Tourism, there are suggestions to have an island hop-on-hop-off ferry system, like in New York, being developed,” he said.
Local travellers would benefit from the service as well, he said.
“We first need to make Mombasa a direct scheduled flight destination and also increase charter arrivals,” he said.
Instead, Mr Oberoi, who is also the managing director of Kuldip Touring Company, urged the government to reduce electricity rates and garbage collection services instead of giving them tax breaks.