In the June to September summer season, Brittany Ferries carried 1,090,254 passengers on all of its routes.
This compares with 1,046,761 carried the previous year and 1,259,587 carried in 2019 (pre-pandemic).
“These are encouraging figures, reflecting our first post-Covid year operating all ships, from all ports,” said CEO Christophe Mathieu.
“We have shown we have a viable business model with further potential for a return to pre-Covid passenger volumes, if we are able to operate on a level playing field with other operators.
“This year will deliver a positive economic result and our new ships lead the sector on comfort, accessibility, and lower emissions. It’s a premium travel experience that customers rightly expect,” he said.
However, freight numbers revealed a systematic downward trend as this summer, 48,114 freight units were carried, compared to 50,868 during the same period of 2022 and 59,057 units in 2019.
“While the majority of freight is carried outside the summer months, the summer trend reflects an overall decline in volumes,” Mathieu said. “This is particularly worrying on eastern Channel routes, where we have been hit by over-capacity on short sea routes such as Dover/Calais.
“The ensuing price war, in which low-cost operators have an unfair competitive advantage over those paying seafarers a fair wage, has led to a year-on-year decline of around 6%. That’s for services operating from our eastern ports of Le Havre, Caen and Cherbourg. Compared with 2019, the figures are even more challenging, down by around 30%,” he said.
On the passenger routes, Spain and Ireland showed renewed momentum. For example, UK/France figures were 812,285, compared to 784,859 in 2022’s summer season, while UK/Spain were 148,796 this summer, compared to 162,978 in 2022.
Between France and Ireland, the passenger figures for the season were 95,572, compared to 85,777 in the previous year, while on the Ireland/Spain route, 33,628 pax were carried, compared to 13,147 in 2022.
Twice-weekly return voyages connecting Roscoff with Cork helped boost passenger numbers this summer. Overall, on France/Ireland services, volumes have risen by 60%, compared with 2019. Year-on-year (2023 v 2022) the increase was 11%.
The Rosslare/Bilbao service saw even more impressive growth, as 20,000 more travellers crossed the Irish Sea and Bay of Biscay year-on-year, sailing on a new cruise-ferry powered by cleaner LNG – an increase of 155%.
“The Bilbao/Rosslare gamble has paid off. The objectives have been achieved. And once again, Brittany Ferries has risen to the challenge of regional development. Whether for freight or passengers, this route will deliver the environmental benefits and transport models desired by the State, and the regions served.
“By developing a low-carbon transport model on this new route since 2018, we are reducing the number of lorries on the roads and increasing the number of car passengers on board our ferries. This decision is now paying off, as is the decision to take advantage of Roscoff’s proximity to Ireland and the choice of new LNG-powered ships, pending the introduction of electric propulsion,” said Jean-Marc Roué, Brittany Ferries’ President.
Year-on-year growth was also reported on routes connecting the UK with the Brittany and Normandy regions. However, numbers were still well down on pre-Covid 2019 levels, reflecting the draw of low-cost ferry travel on short sea routes this year. Brittany (down 15%) proved more resilient that Normandie (down 25%).
UK/Spain routes dropped back to 2019 levels following growth last year. The surge last year was caused by the closure of the UK/France border during the peak booking period post-Christmas and into January, 2022.
This year’s data showed a small increase when compared with 2019 levels. However, with one fewer return sailing per week, the positive news is that the rise has been achieved with greater operational efficiency, and a concomitant decline in emissions.
Brexit has delivered dividends, when it comes to freight carried between two EU member states, France and Ireland, negating the need to travel via the UK land bridge. Further growth was also seen on Ireland/Spain, where freight hubs in Rosslare and Bilbao continued to drive demand.
However, data for UK/France routes painted a different picture. All ferry routes connecting the UK with France have reported a decline in volumes post-Brexit. It was notable that, while Brittany Ferries continued to struggle, operators on the short sea operating a low-wage, low-cost model have been able to offer reduced freight rates boosting their figures this year.
This competitive distortion has hit Brittany Ferries hard, particularly on freight services offered on eastern ports of Cherbourg, Caen and Le Havre, the company said.