Kenya has delayed the opening of its new cruise terminal in Mombasa until August due to the ongoing disruption the COVID-19 pandemic is causing for the global cruise industry.
The new $11-million cruise terminal was completed in June last year, but has not yet been used because cruises to and from Africa remain uncertain and prone to last minute changes.
The Mombasa Cruise Terminal is intended to make the port city a more attractive cruise destination and spur the growth of cruise tourism, and the wider tourism industry, which accounts for 4.4% of Kenya’s economy.
Located at berth 1 at the Mombasa Port, the terminal includes duty-free shops, restaurants, conference facilities and offices with a capacity to handle 2,000 passengers per day.
It is intended to help Kenya compete with the likes of South Africa, the Seychelles, Mauritius, Cape Verde and Zanzibar.
A recent survey carried out by Tourism and Transport Consult International on cruise tourist potential for Kenya showed that Mombasa could easily attract 140,000 passengers per year, which would put in on par with Cape Town.
Although a nascent cruise destination, Kenya ranks just third behind South Africa and Nigeria in terms of cruise passenger arrivals in sub-Saharan Africa, and sees great potential for cruise tourism thanks to its dramatic coastline, plethora of exotic islands and remote port communities and its strategic location on East Africa’s Indian Ocean coast.
“With the current government’s efforts to curb infections with numbers going down and compliance by the locals, we are optimistic to begin voyages by August when the season begins,” said Haji Masemo, Communications Officer for the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA).
Encouraging cruise lines to call in Mombasa in the post-COVID-19 environment, however, will require more than just an upgrade to cruise infrastructure and an appealing destination for passengers.
According to one of the region’s cruise ship local handling agents, Inchcape Shipping Limited, the resumption of cruise operations will also be determined by the rate of vaccinations and other measures put in place to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“Low vaccination rate in East Africa, and more so Kenya which determines cruise calendar, is delaying resumption of cruise ship business,” said Bwanaheri Lali, Inchcape Shipping Operations Manager.
“But the Ministry of Health has promised to come up with cruise ship protocols to ensure the leisure travels resume,” he added. “We expect to resume this year and already cruise ship companies have started booking to make call as government puts more efforts to improve vaccination rate and other plans to contain the virus.”
All major cruise lines have implemented a vaccination mandate for passengers, while also fully vaccination their crew, and have prioritized the resumption of cruises in destinations with high vaccination rates and low infection numbers.
South Africa has led the reopening of cruises to and from the continent, despite massive disruption created by the emergence of the Omicron variant in December and subsequent travel restrictions implemented by countries around the world.