Enhancing the ferry vacation experience

Jacqui Griffiths looks at how ferry operators are positioning their crossings as part of their customers’ vacation experience

Enhancing the ferry vacation experience
TT-Line serves Tasmanian food and bevergaes onboard Spirit of Tasmania
This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2016 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

For many travellers, the ferry is far more than a way to get from A to B. It’s an opportunity to relax, stretch their legs, and enjoy refreshments while they take in the scenery. “Ferry companies tend to have two broad groups of customers: people who are travelling from necessity and people who are travelling to their holiday destination,” says Simon Johnson, president of Carus Executive Consulting. “Actually, both of those groups quite like the same things. They travel on a ferry because it gives them time to get out of the car, get some fresh air and mix with other travellers. It’s an environment that encourages people to relax and take a break – to shop, grab a cup of coffee or just look out the window.”

For operators, this provides an ideal foundation to position the crossing as part of the overall vacation experience – and build strong relationships with their customers. “The ferry industry has traditionally been a travel operator, moving passengers from one port to the next – but that has all changed,” says Michaela Murphy, head of contact centre at P&O Ferries. “At P&O Ferries, one of the key appeals to our customers is that their holiday literally begins the moment they set foot on one of our ships. Our services are driven to empower our customers who want choice, flexibility, and an easy and efficient service from booking to arrival at their destination. Passengers want to feel relaxed from the very outset for themselves and their families, including pets.”

For P&O Ferries, delivering a vacation experience is a natural extension of its commitment to providing a great customer experience. “We adopt the phrase: ‘Your ship, your trip’. Our strategy is to get passengers onboard our ships as quickly as possible, ensuring their holiday starts the moment they step onboard,” says Murphy. “Early embarkation enables our customers to get into the holiday spirit straight away, with access to bars and shops and an opportunity to relax even before the ship sets sail. We offer a wide choice of dining options, from our buffet restaurant and Food Court to our award-winning Brasserie fine dining experience. We have a number of coffee shops and bars serving delicious food including pizzas and hot dogs late into the night and outside on our decks, cocktails and drinks are served enabling the customer’s vacation to start al fresco, while watching the sun set.”

Murphy adds: “Musical entertainment and shows provide a cruise-like experience, and during school holiday periods childrens’ entertainment is also provided ensuring the parents’ holiday gets off to a great start. Club lounges provide an air of luxury and escapism, including beautiful teak sun loungers on a private outside deck where passengers can watch the white cliffs of Dover, among other famous landmarks, receding into the distance, knowing they’re on their way.”

A focus on providing the products and services passengers associate with their holiday also helps to make the crossing a cohesive part of the overall vacation. P&O Ferries recently launched its Travel Essentials programme, which enables it to be a one-stop shop for vacationing passengers. “The Travel Essentials programme allows us to bring products to our customers which meet their expectations and needs,” says Murphy. “That includes travel insurance and travel money, utilising our Reserve & Collect service to pre-order their euros in advance of the trip.”

In today’s connected world, holidaymakers expect to communicate with anyone, wherever they are – whether that is to find information or to send a selfie to friends and family. Murphy says that digital communication is a key tenet that will continue to drive ferry operators to position their crossings as part of the vacation experience. “Customers are digitally aware, and we need to meet their expectations by introducing digital platforms,” she says. “In partnership with EMC, we have made all our short-sea services on the Channel ‘wifi hotspots’, which is a real world first – all passengers can take advantage of a high-speed wifi connection offering a digital platform on which to further improve our services. It’s a real game-changer for our Channel service.”

Operators around the world are also making smart use of décor, entertainment and food and beverage offerings to draw passengers’ attention to their destination, making the vacation a reality from the moment they arrive at the ferry terminal. For example, Marine Atlantic Canada uses breathtaking images of its destinations in its new state-of-the-art North Sydney and Port aux Basques terminals and onboard its vessels. TT-Line’s Spirit of Tasmania serves Tasmanian food and beverages at its onboard restaurants and bars, and gives travellers a chance to meet the producers of Tasmanian gourmet foods at its Spirit of Tassie showcase. Stena Line’s terminals provide a consistent, modern experience for passengers as they take the first steps towards their holiday destination. In addition, the operator recently launched Stena Line Sessions on its Belfast to Liverpool and Belfast to Cairnryan routes, a series of musical events that will see passengers being entertained by popular singers from Northern Ireland as they journey across the Irish Sea.

“By enabling customers to experience some of the things that they’ll find at their destination, operators can give them a sense of adventure that continues through the terminal and aboard the ferry, as well as when they reach their destination,” says Johnson. “We’re seeing ferry companies waking up to the fact that first impressions count, and the onboard offers are beginning to nudge in the right direction.”

Success in positioning the ferry as part of the vacation demands an understanding of what customers want. That can seem a daunting task to some ferry operators, but it is an attainable goal.

“It’s about having a vision of where you want to go, and not being frightened to have a go at getting there,” says Johnson. “But it is complex. Ferry companies are usually small compared to cruise operators and when it comes to the customer experience they don’t have the teams of in-house experts that cruise companies have. But any operator, of any size, can achieve the experience that makes their ferry part of the vacation. The best thing to do is collect the data, ask internal staff, get hold of some research and find out specifically what their customers want. There are a lot of myths out there, and you need the proper data to get a true picture.”

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Jacqui Griffiths
By Jacqui Griffiths
Tuesday, January 3, 2017