Swedish ferry company Stena Line’s revenue from its on board shops in the first quarter of this year showed a large increase on its routes between the UK and the EU, compared to the same period last year.
The growth is due to ‘duty free’ sales, which exceeded the company’s expectations. It shows the huge potential the on board retail sector has to provide a much needed boost to the travel industry after lockdown, Stena said.
Following Brexit, ‘duty free’ sales are permitted on board ferry routes between the UK and the EU. Passengers can make huge savings, sometimes of up to 60%, compared to high street prices on alcohol, cigarettes and cosmetics, which can all be purchased tax free, the company explained.
Sales figures from the first three months of 2021 far outstripped those of 2020, despite having only half the passengers travelling on board the company’s ferries.
Overall sales on UK/EU routes were 34% higher in 1Q21, than in 1Q20. These figures were even higher on the Irish Sea where they were up 53%, while they were 14.6% higher on the North Sea. Duty tends to be higher in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, than in Continental Europe, so there is more incentive to buy tax free, the company claimed.
However, Stena said it is the amount that each passenger is spending that is showing the largest increases. On average the amount spent in the on board shops per person rose by 80%, as people snapped up bargains on the likes of Jameson Whisky, Absolut Vodka and Amber Leaf tobacco.
Stephen Bryden, Stena Line’s Head of Onboard Sales and Services, said: “We have invested heavily in revamping and, in some cases, extending our on board shops so the response is very positive and has outstripped our expectations.
“Following the large demand that we are experience from people eager to enjoy the savings they can make on board, the company will now be extending our sales offering even further. The ferry sector has suffered worse than many other sectors as we have remained fully operational 24/7 during pandemic, despite having lower passenger and freight levels, so the boost from ‘duty free’ is a welcome side-effect of Brexit not only for us but for all our passengers too,” he said.
Figures were gathered from sales data on Stena Lines four UK routes where ‘duty free’ is currently permitted, these included routes from Wales to the Republic of Ireland and the four routes between England and The Netherlands.
Meanwhile, Irish Ferries and Stena Line, the two key players in Ireland’s ferry industry, have called for the reopening of the Common Travel Area (CTA) at the earliest opportunity.
They also welcome comments made recently by Irish Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, when he talked about the possibility of restoring the CTA between Ireland and Britain as an “initial first step” for the travel and tourism sectors.
With virus levels now low in Ireland and the UK, and vaccination programmes progressing in both countries, the ferry companies called on Ministers and industry stakeholders to urgently look at restoring the long-standing CTA agreement for Irish and UK citizens, and permit unrestricted travel between Britain and the island of Ireland.
Paul Grant, Stena Line’s Trade Director for the Irish Sea, said: “COVID-19 infections are now at low levels and vaccination levels are increasing significantly in both countries. In the UK for example 66% of adults have now received their first dose and 30% have had both, so there is now a real need to focus on solving some of the economic impacts of the pandemic, and an obvious starting point are the hard-hit tourist, hospitality and travel sectors.
“With the restoring of travel between the islands of Ireland and Britain, we can start to rebuild these sectors locally in advance of the full resumption of international travel, which may take more time to agree and deliver,” he said.
Andrew Sheen, Irish Ferries Managing Director, added: “The ferry industry has played a key role in helping to keep vital food and medical supply lines open during the height of the pandemic. With the current UK infection rate of 48 cases per 100,000 population comparable to the lowest in Europe, we need to acknowledge the shared land border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and eliminate the discrepancies and loopholes on travel restrictions on the island.
Irish Ferries and Stena Line welcome the Tánaiste’s recent comments on the possibility of restoring the CTA in advance of the full resumption of international travel and would urge the Irish Government to prioritise its implementation,” he concluded.
The issue with the CTA has arisen due to differing approaches by the Irish and UK governments. The Irish Government requires passengers from Britain to have a negative PCR test and they must also quarantine for 14 days on arrival. However, the UK Government has never imposed requirements for testing or quarantine for people travelling from anywhere on the island of Ireland to Britain. The Northern Ireland Assembly also has never imposed testing or quarantine on anyone travelling from Britain.
Both companies also stressed that they need time to prepare for the resumption of travel. Urgent clarity was needed regarding dates so that the ferry companies can ensure they are ready from an operational perspective.