What Kenya should do to reap benefits from cruise tourism

Tourists come out of Cruise Ship, Oceanias at the port of Mombasa on December 26, 2022. [Omondi Onyango,Standard]

A recent article in The Standard headlined, ‘Sh1.4 billion cruise terminal near idle two years after completion’,noted that at the Mombasa Port berth number one, lies a cruise terminal regarded as the best along the East African coastline.

The article went on to state that despite the modern terminal being able to allow the berthing of two Oasis-class ships, which are some of the world’s largest passenger ships to dock simultaneously, the terminal that was completed in 2021, lies idle. This got me wondering what we should do as a country to reap more from this growing market segment bearing in mind how much push the stakeholders exerted for the terminal to be constructed.

Before we delve into the strategies that we need to adopt, we should understand what cruise tourism is. Generally, cruise tourism denotes travel on large ships or vessels for leisure purposes, visiting various destinations along the way.

It is a popular form of vacation that offers travellers an apt way to explore various locations in one trip. Prior to Covid-19, cruise tourism was dynamic and a growing tourism segment that had ceased to represent a mere niche and was slowly but steadily entering the domain of mainstream tourism.

In Kenya, for example, we had reached about 12,000 cruise tourist arrivals per annum, meaning an average of about 1,000 passengers per month. Additionally, we had started receiving cruise ships in Lamu, which were docking in the sea since the port was not complete then. According to Statista Research, in 2022, the cruise industry revenue worldwide amounted to nearly $19 billion and the market is gradually growing. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, cruise tourism represented one of the fastest growing tourism segments.

The trend of mega ships, carrying over 6,000 passengers and crew and containing numerous restaurants, theatres, shopping malls and various sport facilities, may make one think of cruise tourism as being synonymous with “floating resorts”.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic significantly impacted cruise tourism globally, leading to temporary suspension and increased health and safety measures. Despite these challenges, the industry continues to evolve, with innovative technologies and new destinations being explored to attract travellers.

Yet, despite the dominant presence of a “floating hotel”, for the vast majority of cruise holiday offerings, the itinerary reflects a key component and differentiator of a cruise holiday, particularly for the European source markets. Consequently, behind every organised cruise, there is a value chain comprising ports/destinations, destination management companies, transport companies and ship-chandlers/food and beverage suppliers, among others. Cruise packages typically include transport to/from embarkation/disembarkation ports and various excursion packages at the ports of call.

To determine the economic value of the cruise activity on a destination, we have to take into account the different types of cruise related expenditure. According to researchers, these include crew and passenger-related expenditure (retail spending during the visit, pre/post-cruise expenditure, incidentals, shore excursions, departure tax, provedoring (provision of supplies particularly food and beverages); vessel-related expenditure (passenger embarkation charges, port dues, port agency fees, pilotage, water, fuel costs, garbage, berthage, towage, stevedoring, miscellaneous expenses, dry dock charges) and supporting expenditure which includes direct payments by ship owners into the destination.

In addition, according to research, more frequent cruisers prefer attractive cruising destinations, excellent geographical locations, diversified cultural experiences, local wildlife, rich tourism resource and exotic experiences. From the above, it is evident that there are several sources of revenue that Kenya, as a cruise tourism destination, can derive from and the question, therefore, is how to maximise the revenues.

I posit that the players need to implement apt marketing strategies specifically on cruise port strategies, cruise lines strategies collaboratively involving the national and county government and in conjunction with both the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) and the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) and other key stakeholders.

There is need for a joint collaborative effort and marketing strategies involving KTB and KPA. The two state agencies should plan and execute joint participation in such well known cruise tourism exhibitions brands such as Seatrade Cruise Global, which is the cruise industry’s leading annual B2B event which will be held in Miami, USA, in April, 2024. In addition, the two agencies should seek ways to entice at least one of the cruise liners to homeport Mombasa.

In this respect, we can learn a lot from Durban port in S. Africa which is the homeport for MSC. Durban port is popular for passenger cruise ships due to the city’s great climate and amazing beaches. With strategic focus the Kenyan Coast offers exquisite options to cruise passengers – from the enthralling and award-winning beaches in South Coast; excursions to the Shimba hills; enchanting visits to Shimoni; Mombasa Island tour, Wildlife safari excursions to Taita Taveta, inter alia – the Kenya’s cruise tourism offer in Coast is simply peerless.

This would make Mombasa port an embarkation/disembarkation port, thus increasing the number of days spent by tourists and consequently the revenue spend per tourist.