Kenya's tourism sector seeks to ride on cruise ships to boost growth

Ms Nautica cruise ship arrives at the Port of Mombasa with 654 tourists on board and 396 crew, January 19, 2017  FILE PHOTO | NMG
Ms Nautica cruise ship arrives at the Port of Mombasa with 654 tourists on board and 396 crew, January 19, 2017. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya is banking on marketing campaigns in leading global cruise conventions and enhanced security to increase the number of international tourists arriving by sea.

Last year, the Port of Mombasa was voted Africa’s leading cruise facility for the second-year running by the World Travel Awards.

“Mombasa is a preferred destination for cruise holidaymakers since after they arrive at the port, it takes them a short time to head to national parks for game drives,” said Tourism Cabinet secretary Najib Balala.

Cruise tourism, he said, is a lucrative market for Kenya, adding that visitors arriving by sea are high-end holidaymakers.

To tap the potential of this segment, Kenya is building a Sh350 million cruise ship terminal at the port.

The project, which is expected to be completed before the forthcoming cruise tourism season in November this year, would significantly boost the industry as the port currently lacks a facility for catering to global international holidaymakers.

Mr Balala, Kenya Tourism Board Chief Executive Officer Betty Radier and officials from the Kenya Ports Authority were in Miami, US, on Monday, where they participated in the Seatrade Cruise Global convention which closed its doors on Thursday.

The forum is the cruise industry’s premier global event and brings together business, industry cruise lines, suppliers, travel agents and partners in the sector.

As the epicentre of the cruise industry, Seatrade features exhibitors and attendees from around the world including key industry players.

Mr Balala said Kenya’s participation in the Miami convention would boost the country’s growing cruise industry.

He attributed the improvement to the decline in pirate attacks off Somalia coast and enhanced security in Mombasa.

Market Mombasa port

Recently, Mr Balala said Kenya would participate in the Miami convention to market the Port of Mombasa in order to attract more cruise ships and increase tourist arrivals by sea.

Cruise tourists, he said, had boosted the industry and the economy, because they later make repeat visits and go to national parks such as the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Tsavo East and West National Parks, Amboseli National Park and Shimba Hills Game Reserve and excursions in Mombasa Town.

“Although the tourists who arrive by sea spend a short time in the country, majority of them later come for longer holidays thereby boosting the economy,” he said.

“The availability of a cruise terminal at the Port of Mombasa will be a game changer to tourism industry as it will help attract more international tourists to the country.”

Mr Balala said the facility would offer services to tourists when they arrive at the port or when departing for other destinations.

“Over the years, there has been no terminal at the port to cater for tourists who arrive by sea. But I am glad that by the next season we shall have a modern cruise ship facility,” he added.

According to figures by the Kenya Tourism Board, arrivals by cruise ships at the Port of Mombasa declined by 17.7 per cent to 2,717 last year compared with 3,302 visitors in 2015.

During this cruise tourism season which began in November last year and ends this month, at least 2,958 tourists arrived in the country by sea.

Two cruise ships

Only two cruise ships MS Nautica and MS Silver Cloud made two trips to Mombasa this season.

The arrival of luxury cruise ship MS Silver Cloud at the Port of Mombasa on Monday a week ago marked the end of the cruise tourism season.

The ship, operated by Silversea Cruises brought 255 passengers and 224 crew from Zanzibar and departed for Seychelles the following day on Tuesday.

Majority of the tourists who arrived aboard MS Silver Cloud were from the United States while others were from Germany, Canada and England.

Some of the visitors flew over to Maasai Mara National Reserve for game drives, others travelled to Shimba Hills Game Reserve in Kwale for safari while the rest remained in Mombasa for excursions.

KPA managing director Catherine Mturi-Wairi recently said the launch of the construction of the cruise terminal comes at a time when the port is experiencing a rise in ship arrivals compared to a few years ago.

The KPA boss said a survey which was carried out in 2015 by Tourism and Transport Consult International on cruise tourist potential for Kenya showed that Mombasa could easily attract 140,000 passengers yearly.

She said the cruise terminal would offer a range of facilities including a lounge area for passengers, reception counters for cruise operators, restaurants and souvenir shops.

“The ultra-modern facility will give our visitors the opportunity to relax upon arrival and before departure,” she said.