Kenya could fail to reap maximum benefits from the Sh350 million cruise ship terminal in Mombasa, due to active US and United Kingdom travel alerts over the coastal waters.
“The threat of piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean remains significant,” the UK says on its foreign travel advice to Kenya.
On the other hand, the US has asked travellers to exercise increased caution in Kenya due to crime, terrorism and kidnapping.
“Pirates are active in the waters off the Horn of Africa, especially in the international waters near Somalia,” the US notes in one of its travel advisories.
This, even as the first cruise ship for 2020 docks at the Port of Mombasa today, where the government has invested in a modern state-of-the-art terminal.
MS Marco Polo, owned by the Global Maritime Group under charter to UK-based Cruise and Maritime Voyages, brings in 500 passengers (both tourists and crew), Kenya Tourism Board confirmed yesterday.
The vessel which arrives at 6.30 am will be in the country for an overnight stay with tourists going for a city tour of Mombasa and the nearby wildlife and marine parks, mainly Tsavo National Park.
The alerts could affect travel plans for most cruise ships and tourists. Kenya has traditionally been among East African countries on the global cruise circuit alongside Zanzibar.
Tourism stakeholders however remain optimistic of a good performance especially with the investment on an ultra-modern facility, dismissing travel alerts concerns.
“Vessels will come. We don’t take these advisories very serious because the country has had lengthy stability. Piracy is a thing of the past,” said Sam Ikwaye, Kenya Association of Hotel keepers and Caterers executive officer.
Kenya Tourism Federation Chairman Mohammed Hersi said vessels sailing to Kenya remain safe based on the current route, which keeps off the Somalia waters.
“They go off completely down to Madagascar. We are good to go,” Hersi said.
The main cruise ship route to Kenya is Sychelles-Madagascar -Dar es Salaam-Zanzibar-Mombasa.
The Mombasa cruise ship terminal is expected to enhance passenger handling capacity and support growth of the country’s tourism sector.
The terminal comprises duty-free shops, restaurants, conference facilities and offices for key stakeholders in the industry.
“It is a very good investment. At the end of the day, you cannot compete for cruise business without a proper terminal,” Hersi said yesterday.
KPA is crossing its fingers the recent terrorist attack in Lamu and tension between the US, Iran and their allies does not affect global travel schedules for vessels.
The authority will operate the terminal in the interim before seeking a private operator.
“We will operate the facility for now but plans are in place to seek an independent operator later,” KPA Principal Corporate Communications Officer Hajj Masemo told the Star.
Tourism CS Najib Balala has been upbeat the cruise ship terminal will boost the tourism sector, which has grown in recent years.
According to Balala, the terminal will encourage the number of holiday makers visiting the country, making Kenya a lead cruise tourism destination.
Last year, sea ports and land borders contributed to the arrival of 535,092 visitors of the total 2.025 million international visitors, Tourism Research Institute data shows.