In its hey days, cruise vessels were a prominent feature at the Port of Mombasa. With weekly cruise voyages plying the Port, Zanzibar (Tanzania) and Seychelles, Mombasa city was a beehive of activities with the presence of many foreign tourists.
However, at the height of Somali piracy that started in 2005 onwards, the star of cruise tourism in Kenya faded.
Before then, there would be over 40 cruise vessel calls at the Port of Mombasa every year. The number has reduced to zero in the recent past. Kenya Shipping Agents Association estimates that the country has lost over Ksh5.9 billion since 2007 when Cruise tourism declined.
However, there is hope that the industry stakeholders could revive the sector. A modern cruise terminal worth $3.1 million is now complete with a capacity to handle two thousand passengers. But this magnificent facility lies idle six months after its launch. How can this terminal be put into optimal use? It is a nagging question for many cruise tourism stakeholders.
Remarkably, PMAESA (Port Management Association of Eastern and Southern Africa) and KPA (Kenya Ports Authority) convened a breakfast cruise industry meeting last week to brainstorm an innovative cruise business strategy. It drew a wide range of participants, including shipping agents, travel companies, the Kenya Tourism Board and port officials.
For an industry generating close to $30 billion in revenue, cruise tourism is one of the most competitive maritime sectors. If Kenya is to penetrate this market, then it must offer an irresistible cruise package.
As the cruise industry adjusts from a major disruption caused by the pandemic, Kenya can seize this moment to entice cruise operators with a new travel destination. However, Kenya cannot achieve this on its own. It requires her neighbors in the East and Southern Africa region already established in the business. Tanzania, Seychelles and South Africa are good examples of renowned destinations for cruise travel globally.
Take the case of an upcoming cruise journey by Silver Explorer; a luxury passenger vessel owned by the Monaco-based Silversea Cruises. It has a guest capacity of 144. Starting March 29, it will depart from Cape Town, South Africa, spending 18 days calling at 13 ports in four countries along the Western Indian Ocean. The journey ends at Zanzibar (Tanzania), two days after three excursions at Aldabra atoll in Seychelles. This presents an opportunity for Kenya to strive and get included in the South Africa- Tanzania cruise circuit.
In fact, Kenya, through cruise operators, should market itself as a homeport for cruise ships- where voyages begin and end. Obviously, it will require a seamless service connection with the nearby Moi International Airport for ease of accessing the cruise terminal.
“As the fastest growing maritime sector, cruise tourism is a product for the port and industry for the country. If well nurtured, it can create a good spill-over in the economy,” said Col. Andre Ciseau, Secretary General for PMAESA.
In addition, there is a need to have a solid cruise product, which can be enhanced through travel arrangements with other regional partners under the PMAESA umbrella, added Col. Ciseau.
“This should also include an inventory of tourist attraction sites, especially those within 200 kilometers range from the Port.”
Present at the meeting was Mr Jacques Massoni, the Director of Marseille Cruise Port Terminal. Ranked as the fourth largest cruise terminal in the Mediterranean and 15th in the world, Mr Massoni’s presentation offered a reality check to Kenya’s aspiration of turning Mombasa into an African cruise hub.
A few conditions suffice. “There is a difference between ferry and cruise passengers. The latter are after an experience, hence the need to have a dedicated team who exclusively work in the cruise terminal. Thinking cruise all day long. The challenge is not to win the first call but to establish and maintain relationships with top cruise operators,” Mr Massoni elaborated.
The stakeholders agreed to form Kenya Cruise Club, comprising Kenya Ports Authority, PMAESA, Mombasa County government, Shipping and Travel agents, amongst others. It borrows from Marseille Provence Cruise Club, which helps augment the business strategy for Marseille Port Cruise Terminal.
To avoid scenarios that could lead to bad reviews for Kenya’s cruise industry, Ms Miriam Mwakundia, Head of Marketing at KPA, implored on the need for a value chain analysis.
“Capacity building is needed, especially for food suppliers and curio vendors, to be stationed at the Cruise Terminal. This feeds to the quality assurance of the cruise terminal services. It also cuts across hoteliers and travel agents. We have to price ourselves within the range of cruise travelers,” Ms Mwakundia said.