The region has yet to recover cruise operations after the Covid pandemic

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By ANTHONY KITIMO

Cruise business appeared to be growing in Kenya before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Now officials are only talking about what could have been.

Inchcape Shipping Ltd, one of the region’s leading cruise ship handling agents, said the company would have supported the tourism industry in tough times.

However, the lack of common health protocols between countries on how to mitigate and manage Covid-19 and other communicable diseases has hampered growth.

“East Africa usually receives cruise ships from August, given the climatic differences between the region and Europe, but we have not yet received any bookings,” the official said this week. Inchcape COO Bwanaheri Lali at The EastAfrican.

“This, among other things, is due to the fact that Kenya and Zanzibar, which fall under the same circuit, have not come up with health protocols for cruise ships to ensure the resumption of leisure travel,” he said. -he declares.

Before the pandemic, Kenya was the third largest travel and tourism destination in sub-Saharan Africa after South Africa and Nigeria. It averaged two million visitors a year. In 2020, those numbers fell to 579,600. Tourism revenue grew from $1.4 billion in 2019 to $800 million the following year.

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Last year arrivals rose 53% to 870,465 as Covid-19 measures were eased. However, the venture was still stalled for lack of ship calls, even though Kenya had set up a new $3.5 million cruise terminal at the port of Mombasa.

Although Kenya and Tanzania do not have cruise ships, their ports are crucial links between onshore and offshore tourism, especially as tourists indulge in safaris or visit inland.

Cruise ships, however, had a problem when it came to containing contagious diseases. When Covid-19 hit, 40 cruise ships around the world reported cases in the first four months. A famous case was Diamond Princess, the British cruise ship which had to quarantine in Yokohama, Japan, for a month with 3,711 passengers, 700 of whom contracted the Covid-19 virus resulting in nine deaths.

Following the incidents, governments around the world banned cruise ships, refusing to allow sails from their ports and travel insurers reportedly not covering tourists.

For Kenya and Tanzania, many countries now require travelers to be fully immunized.

Mr Lali, however, says operators are ready to receive the ships, banking on the terminal to turn things around.

Located at Pier 1 of the Port of Mombasa, the terminal has arrival and departure areas for passengers, a lounge, an immigration office, reception desks for cruise passengers, restaurants and souvenir shops.

Cruise passengers will benefit from facilities similar to those offered at international airports, with a capacity of 2,000 passengers. Tourists can access the Standard Gauge Railway and Moi International Airport and explore various destinations during their stay in the country.

For Kenya, the belief is that once the terminal is operational, it will create nearly 300 direct jobs and boost local industries, such as the transport sector, hotels, restaurants and handicraft vendors.

But they must market the installation to players in the countries from which the ships and tourists come. Recently, the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) launched a joint promotional campaign with local travel agents targeting other European countries.

Countries on Kenya’s radar to boost its cruise sector include France, Sweden, Poland, Mexico, Israel, Iran, Australia, Switzerland, Netherlands and Belgium.

If cruise tourism grows, there are signs it could boost related businesses. For example, Kenya has historically been a source of ship’s crews. In times of recovery, some 2,000 Kenyans have already been picked up by various ships under the Royal Caribbean Cruises and Celebrity Cruises banner, according to company dispatches on their latest recruitment.

In Tanzania, the first cruise liner, a 186m-long Silver Whisper, landed in Zanzibar in March, breaking the Covid-19 lull that had lasted more than a year.

Two more cruise liners have been lined up for the archipelago before the end of this year, officials say. These are the MS Zandaam and the Oceania Nautica, which are expected to attract at least 4,000 tourists by November 12. Global cruise ship tracker CrewCenter says next year Artania, Silver Shadow, Seabourn Sojourn, MS Zuiderdam, Silver Spirit and Bollete will arrive.

These cruise ships usually sail to the archipelago from Mombasa or Mahé in the Seychelles, then to Maputo and Cape Town.

– Additional reporting by Mohammed Issa

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