Sh1b cruise ship terminal lies idle as Covid-19 hurts tourist arrivals

A view of the Cruise Ship Terminal at the Port of Mombasa. [Robert Menza, Standard]

The Covid-19 fog shrouding the tourism sector seems far from clearing as a Sh1.3 billion cruise ship terminal lies idle at the Port of Mombasa.

The modern terminal, built to spur cruise tourism in the country, is yet to be commissioned due to its inability to draw business since Covid-19 struck.

The terminal is domiciled at the port’s berth 1. Six cruise ships that were expected to call last year were cancelled due to the pandemic.

Tourism players at the coast are now calling on the government to do more to attract cruise lines at the Port of Mombasa.

Under the aegis of the Kenya Association of Women in Tourism (KAWT), women entrepreneurs in the tourism sector yesterday called on the government to moot elaborate marketing initiatives to help attract international cruise liners to the Port of Mombasa. 

The association’s Mombasa County Chapter Chairperson Janet Chamia described the terminal as one of the best facilities to handle cruise ships of all sizes in the West Rim of the Indian Ocean.

“Before this facility was put up, we used to have cruise ships dock at the harbour with no proper reception facilities,” said Ms Chamia.

The terminal has duty free shops, restaurants, conference facilities as well as offices. It had been tipped to inject impetus into the tourism sub-sector, particularly at a time of strained economic hardships occasioned by the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Chamia said the new Port of Lamu also offers excellent opportunities for cruise ships to start calling. 

Tourists can sample exotic attractions found within the historic Lamu archipelago.

The terminal will re-position Mombasa as the leading destination for cruise ships traversing the East African coast.

It features a three-story building with various facilities targeting international travellers arriving from all over the world.

It was designed with a view of ensuring a comfortable, unique experience for visitors on cruise ships docking at the port.

On average, a cruise ship can accommodate over 400 passengers and 300 crew members. Their purchases, entertainment and other expenses usually impact economic activity at ports of call.

In the past, cruise ships docked at the cargo terminal due to a lack of a cruise terminal. Mombasa is East Africa’s busiest port.

Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) Principal Public Relations officer Haji Masemo said effects of Covid-19 pandemic have greatly affected cruise ship tourism.

“We remain optimistic that with the global roll out of the Covid-19 vaccinations and with travellers observing health protocols, we can attract cruise liners along the coastline soon,” Mr Masemo said.

President Uhuru Kenyatta had personally inspected the project in April 2019 during its construction, noting its importance in growing the tourism and hospitality industry.

Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala had in an earlier interview disclosed that the government was in negotiations with major cruise companies to secure partnerships to have large cruise ships dock at the coast.

Among them was California-based luxury cruise ship operator Princess Cruises, which the government had been wooing to make Mombasa its home port once construction of the terminal was completed.

From a high of 5,072 passengers who arrived in Mombasa on cruise vessels in 2015, the number dwindled steadily to 2,333 in 2018.

Kenya is looking to strengthen its position in cruise tourism to complement air connectivity — which remains a major driver for growth of international arrivals.

Once commissioned, the cruise terminal is expected to directly create jobs, and boost local industries such as the transport sector, hotels, food providers and curio sellers.  

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