Far more than a convenient way to hop across the Channel, ferry itineraries and product are diversifying and developing and, according to industry body Discover Ferries, the number of cars taken by ferry has increased for the fifth successive year, growing by half a million since 2012.
The future looks bright for the industry, too, with four new ships set to launch over the next 12 months.
Emma Batchelor, Discover Ferries’ director, says: “We’re delighted that the industry is responding to that sustained growth by investing more than a billion pounds for the future.”
“The great news is that this is a long-term trend. From 2019 onwards, we’ve got seven further new ships being built for companies such as Caledonian Maritime Assets, Stena Line and Irish Ferries, while Brittany Ferries will also charter a further new vessel.”
But what’s new in the sector, what does it mean for your customers and how can you make a ferry journey sound more enticing than simply a way of getting from A to B? We ask a range of operators for their insights and tips.
DFDS Seaways operates across nine routes in Europe, including Newcastle-Amsterdam, Dover-Calais and Dover-Dunkirk. National sales manager Colin Fawcus says that countryside and coastal breaks in Holland, Germany and France are the most popular types of holiday among its customers and that, more surprisingly, Italy is fairly high in popularity as a final destination.
Fawcus adds that 2016 saw a significant change to its customer demographic, with a rise in the number of 19 to 29-year-olds on its Dover-Calais and Dover-Dunkirk routes.
P&O Ferries’ head of partnership sales, Danielle Wharrad, also notes an increase in the number of younger passengers as well as “more people taking pets and bikes”.
It’s a similar story at Brittany Ferries, where trade development manager Dan Joynes says: “More and more of our passengers are choosing to take their dog with them on holiday. We currently carry 90,000 dogs a year, and across our fleet we offer 114 kennels and 44 dog-friendly cabins.”
Joynes also notes a trend for “Spain without the plane”.
“We now offer almost one departure a day to Spain and each year we carry 230,000 passengers and 90,000 cars on our UK-Spain routes.”
Key segments for Irish Ferries, which operates between the UK and Ireland, and Ireland and France, include families and what Tourism Ireland refers to as the “culturally curious” – “discerning travellers aged 45-plus who want to expand their horizons by exploring landscapes and getting under the skin of local heritage and culture”.
Head of passenger sales Dermot Merrigan says: “Other important markets are golfers, anglers and, in small but growing numbers, surfers, plus touring caravans and motorhomes; Ireland is an achievable ‘long tour’ for empty-nesters.”
Trends in demographics span the spectrum at Red Funnel Ferries, which operates between Southampton and the Isle of Wight. Marketing & communications director Jonathan Green says:
“Activity-based breaks are popular with empty nesters, young families and millennials who are seeking to learn a new skill, try a new sport or spend time with the locals.”
He adds that short breaks remain popular – owing in part to the wide range of accommodation available on the Isle of Wight, and notes that bookings from A, B and C1 segments in London, Home Counties and Thames Valley are proving particularly strong, although booking lead-times are fairly short.
Don’t be mistaken in thinking that bookings incorporating ferry travel are overly complicated. Many operators have holiday departments, so you can book the entire package and earn commission. It’s also worth remembering that some lines, such as DFDS and P&O Ferries, work with the likes of Super Break and Disneyland Paris if there is specific product you want to book.
Raise a glass
Wine buffs and those who enjoy a tipple in scenic surroundings will be enticed by Brittany Ferries’ new Vineyards & Vintages Tour. The five-night self-drive trip takes in three of Spain’s most prestigious wine regions – Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Carinena – and includes the chance to visit vineyards and bodegas (wine cellars), plus historical and architectural treasures. The tour starts from £495pp including ferry travel and B&B accommodation.
Escape to the country
Clients looking for a country getaway might be interested in holiday homes on the Castlemartyr Estate in Ireland’s County Cork. Two and three-bedroom lodges are set in three locations across the grounds, which feature woods, parkland and riverside walks and (at additional cost) horse-drawn carriage rides, fishing, archery and laser clay-pigeon shooting. Irish Ferries offers a week-long break for a family of four in August from £985.
Hit the city
For a relaxed city break experience, DFDS offers a three-night mini-cruise break to Bruges including a Newcastle-Amsterdam ferry crossing with a car and two nights’ accommodation plus one night’s B&B hotel accommodation from £176pp. Package also available for foot passengers from £142pp or as a one-night break with a Dover-Dunkirk or Dover-Calais crossing from £96pp. The hotel stay can be extended to three nights on all options.
P&O Ferries has a series of themed minicruises in October and November. One such departure sees the operator bring the Hull Comedy Festival to the North Sea with stand-up and live bands entertaining passengers on the sailing between Hull and Amsterdam. Departing on October 4, the package starts from £79pp.
1. P&O Ferries’ Wharrad says the line provides children’s entertainment in the summer months, making the journey very much part of the holiday. She adds that it offers 46 return sailings per day on the Dover-Calais route, so there is always a time to suit your customers’ budget and schedules.
2. Brittany Ferries’ Joynes says destination expertise is key, and the line’s passengers really appreciate finding out lots of information during the booking process for varied destinations such as France and Spain.
3. Irish Ferries regularly hosts spotters from the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group to facilitate their ongoing conservation project, so passengers might be lucky enough to have some help spotting the dolphins or even whales in the Irish Sea.
4. DFDS is focusing on pet-friendly travel on its Dover-Dunkirk and Dover-Calais routes with a new webpage about travelling with pets, a pre-travel text message service linking to a checklist and free window ventilation guards to ensure airflow while the pet is in the vehicle during the journey. Dedicated “pet pals” will also be on hand to help out with any queries.
5. Remind clients travelling by car that the following items are compulsory under French law: original registration documentation; reflective jacket/waistcoat; warning triangle; and headlamp adjustment kit.