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Mombasa Cruise Terminal becomes white elephant for historic Kenyan port

The Mombasa Cruise Terminal in the historic Kenyan port city from which it takes its names remains idle three years after completion, a victim to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local tourism officials have called on the government to aggressively market the country as a cruise destination in order to benefit from the post-pandemic reopening of the cruise industry.

The $11.3 million cruise terminal was completed in 2016, and saw limited use before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 brought the global cruise industry to a standstill.

The Mombasa Cruise Terminal

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While cruises have been resuming internationally in ever-greater numbers since late 2021, the Mombasa Cruise Terminal remains idle due to a dirth of cruise lines calling in the country.

Mombasa is Kenya’s only cruise port, and in 2022 only Oceania Cruises is due to call in the city, while in 2023 just three cruise ships will visit Mombasa (Artania of Phoenix Reisen, Seabourn Sojourn of Seabourn, and Bolette of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines).

MSC Cruises have indicated that MSC Poesia will also call in the city in 2024 on her World Cruise.

Tourism officials in Mombasa say this is not enough, and have called on the government to aggressively market Kenya as a cruise destination.

However, the government through the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife is yet to issue any statement on how it is preparing for cruising.

Ishpal Oberoi, Chairman of the Kenya Association of Tourism Association (Kato), said Mombasa needs more direct flight connections to other major cities, as well as charter connections.

Mombasa, Kenya

While attracting more cruise lines to call in Mombasa will boost local tourism income, the real money for most cruise ports lies in securing homeport agreements with cruise lines, and this is only possible with a wide variety of direct flights to major source markets in Europe, Asia and North America.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is still a challenge,” says Haji Masemo, a spokesperson for the Kenya Ports Authority, which operates the cruise terminal. “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,” he said.

Masemo added that the 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,” he said.

The Mombasa Cruise Terminal is a three-level building with duty-free shops, lounges, restaurants and conference facilities as well as customs and passport control facilities.

Mombasa is Kenya’s largest city after the capital Nairobi, and the primary tourism hub. At its heart lies the ancient Mombasa Island, home to the Old Town, which dates back to 900AD, and contains the city’s most popular tourist attraction, Fort Jesus.

Fort Jesus, Mombasa

The fort was built between 1593 and 1596 by order of King Felipe II of Castille, who also reigned as King Filipe I of Portugal and the Algarves, to guard the Old Port of Mombasa. The fort is considered a masterpiece of late Renaissance military fortification and is UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mombasa is also popular for its beaches and lively nightlife scene. The Shelly, Tiwi, and Diani beaches are located south of Mombasa, while the Nyali, Bamburi, and Shanzu beaches are located on the north coast, where tourists can also enjoy vibrant 24-hour entertainment.

This includes both family entertainment such as water parks, cinemas, bowling, as well as watersports, mountain biking, gokarting, night clubs and a variety of restaurants.

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