In a business update, Brittany Ferries said that its passenger numbers have risen slowly towards pre-Covid levels.
However, the slump in freight volumes that came post Brexit continued and has even worsened thus far this year.
Since Brexit, Brittany Ferries said that it had seen a decline of around 20% in total freight volumes carried on the Channel. However this year the drop has worsened.
From the start of April, the company has averaged around 2,000 fewer freight units per month than expected. The equates to a drop of around 8% compared with last year. If this weaker pattern continues, estimates for year-end suggest 15% worse freight performance than originally projected.
“Our freight business has become the collateral damage of over-capacity and a price war taking place on short sea routes like Dover/Calais,” said Christophe Mathieu, Brittany Ferries’ CEO.
“Some operators have chosen a business model where loyal seafarers have been replaced by cheap labour, meaning wage bills of between 30 and 60% less than for reputable ferry operators.
“This gives them an unfair competitive advantage. We won’t take part in a race to the bottom in the ferry sector, but there’s no doubt the situation is damaging our freight business today,” he said.
Brittany Ferries operates from Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth to five French destinations and two in northern Spain.
This year’s passenger volumes are encouraging, if not spectacular. Volumes are significantly up on 2022, but still lag behind 2019, which was the last pre-Covid comparison year.
Thus far this year, Brittany Ferries had booked 1,504,274 passengers (those who had already travelled and those holding a forward reservation) – a 17.6% increase on the same period in 2022.
However, volumes were still down by nearly 15%, compared with 2019, a deficit of around 270,000 passengers.
Looking at forward reservations for the high season (covering April to October), reservations reached 1,224,120 pax, compared with 1,097,724 for the same period in 2022. This was an increase of 126,396 passengers, or 12%.
For year-end the company is forecasting an 18% boost in total passenger numbers, compared with 2022 to around 1.95 mill passengers. This would be a positive result, but still around 100,000 fewer travellers than expected, the company said.
Last year, Brittany Ferries reported a sharp fall in the number of tourists coming from France.
In 2019, travellers from Brittany (Roscoff and St Malo) visiting the UK reached 137,500. However, this plummeted to just 42,200 in 2022, partly because Brexit border controls had been implemented requiring passports for travel, an expensive and time-consuming application process for those used to travelling on ID cards.
The company has since reported a strong rebound this year. Around 90,300 reservations have been made thus far and Brittany Ferries said a joint marketing campaign completed with Visit Britain at the end of May helped to inspire holiday makers and boost numbers.
Routes to France suffered in 2022, partly as a consequence of border restrictions in that country, which extended into the busiest post-Christmas booking period impacting demand. However, this year, growth was reported for all UK/France routes.
For example, summer reservations on Brittany Ferries’ Portsmouth/St Malo route were up 6% to 165,700. On the Plymouth/Roscoff route, reservations were up 8% to 154,200.
The company’s most popular link Portsmouth/Caen, which carries nearly 60% of all Brittany Ferries’ passenger traffic, saw forward reservations rise 12% on 2022 data, to 389,150. Once again however, this needed to be viewed in the context of 2019 figures, which were around 8% better.
Poole/Cherbourg is alone in reporting growth compared with both 2022 and 2019 data. Figures showed an improvement of 23% to 104,375 on the same period in 2022 (85,000 pax), and 14% on the 91,370 travellers carried in 2019.
Spain was the star performer for Brittany Ferries’ last year. After strong growth in 2022, this year saw a small decline in passenger numbers for services connecting Portsmouth with Bilbao and Santander, and Plymouth with Santander.
In total, Brittany Ferries took 198,850 in forward reservations for the period covering April/October 2023. Compared with 2019, this equated to a rise of 14%, but was down 7% on 2022.
“Overall we are encouraged by our passenger performance this year, particularly on Channel routes,” added Mathieu.
“While we are not quite where we want to be on volumes, careful management of our business means we are still in a healthy position.
“We will continue to do all we can, working with partners, to encourage holiday makers to see the benefits of a sail-and-stay vacation and to visit the beautiful destinations we serve in every market,” he asserted.
In addition, Spanish LNG supplier, Repsol has opened a second LNG bunkering terminal at Santander, primarily to supply LNG to Brittany Ferries ropaxes calling at the port.
The terminal is fitted with a cryogenic tank with a storage capacity of 1,000 cu m.
Both Santander and the earlier opened Bilbao terminal, are part of an agreement that Repsol signed with Brittany Ferries in 2019 for the supply of LNG as maritime fuel for its Spanish ferry operations.
Repsol said that the design of the Santander terminal allows the bunkering of any type of vessel up to medium size.
In addition, it allows passenger and fuel operations simultaneously, optimising operations on land and on board the vessels, which leads to a reduction of port emissions.
Brittany Ferries’ ropax ‘Santoña’ will carry out regular LNG bunkering operations at the new Santander facility.
It was co-financed by the European Commission through the CEF-Connecting Europe Facilities Programme.