This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
For more than 30 years, Condor Ferries has operated passenger services between the UK and Channel Islands and France. However, the company’s history dates back much further to 1947 when it operated as Commodore Shipping and provided the first lifeline freight services to the Channel Islands. In recent times, there have been significant changes, both in terms of the markets Condor Ferries services and how it operates.
Today, Condor Ferries’ raison d’être is to support the three main strands of the Channel Islands’ economy by bringing in tourists, delivering essential freight services and providing year-round travel for islanders. Paul Luxon, the company’s CEO, says the past three decades has seen the services evolve as the islands’ visitor economy has changed.
“Historically a sizeable portion of UK tourists visited the Channel Islands as part of a British Rail holiday, but the volume of people doing this declined,” he explains. “This can be attributed in part to the impact of the low-cost airline model, which opened up air travel to countless new destinations, as well as to the changing tastes of consumers. Combine these with a finite and constrained passenger market between the UK and the Channel Islands and there has been a decline of 400,000 visitors over the past 10 years alone. A third of these travelled by sea.”
Hence, Condor Ferries reinvented its model in 2015 and has reduced the number of vessels sailing between the UK and the Channel Islands from five to four over the past three years. It now has a mix of conventional freight, ro-pax and high-speed craft (HSC) on the route. This realignment involved an investment of more than £50 million (US$63 million) on a new, larger HSC for the route from the UK.
“Condor Ferries is now one year into a five-year plan and at its heart are reliability, punctuality, customer satisfaction and service,” says Luxon. “A key element comes under the moniker of ‘Project SMART’ – Condor speak for digitalisation. It’s about meeting today’s expectations and preparing to meet tomorrow’s by embracing technology and improving customer service using digital tools. The £2.5 million, two-year project will introduce tangible improvements both internally and externally.”
The other key strategy is proactive, more targeted marketing. Condor Ferries spends well over £1 million each year promoting the Channel Islands in conjunction with the local tourism authorities, aiming to gain an increased share of UK visitors.
As Condor Ferries’ services have evolved over the past 30 years so too have customer expectations, with the internet and low-cost air travel bringing perhaps the greatest changes.
“Tourist consumers now have the choice of the whole world – globalisation, digitalisation, social media and the pace of technology mean we have to offer authentic, personal choice from check-in to return,” comments Luxon. “This is our goal and something we relish and embrace.”
Condor Ferries has faced some speculation in recent months as its owner, Macquarie European Investment Fund 2, winds down and sells its assets. The Australia-based financial group, which manages the fund, stated its intention earlier this year to sell Condor in the next 18 months.
“Condor is a Guernsey-based company so any change in shareholding remains separate from the board and management running of the business,” explains Luxon. “Our shareholder will decide on its ownership term and timing of any sale process. In the meantime, it’s simply business as usual for us. We are focused on linking the UK, the Channel Islands and France across the three strands of essential freight, resident and visitor travel.”
On the freight side of the business, Condor Ferries has just celebrated seven decades of serving the Channel Islands and delivers a resilient, just-in-time daily service to Jersey and Guernsey along with a weekly rotation to St Malo. This includes ro-pax services.
“Both the freight-only Commodore Goodwill and the ro-pax Commodore Clipper are sturdy, bespoke builds, running at around 97% reliability so they won’t be due for replacement for many years,” says Luxon. “There is some current dialogue around a possible earlier replacement of Commodore Goodwill if Condor Rapide’s retirement is delayed, although this discussion remains conceptual as there are no actual plans in place yet.”
Condor Rapide is another ro-pax fast ferry serving both routes to the Channel Islands and France. “Condor Rapide is a popular craft in the fleet and has served the company well since she was introduced in 2010 and is currently operating around 98% of all sailings,” comments Luxon. “Her replacement has yet to be decided based on her ongoing operational, good performance levels, but in time she’ll be replaced by a high-speed vessel suitable for carrying passenger and car services between the Channel Islands, France and the UK. As the building of a new ship takes around two years and nine months, a decision is still some way away.”
Recognising that the fabric of any organisation is its workforce, Condor Ferries has always gone to significant lengths to ensure it provides a happy, safe and productive workplace for its employees.
“Condor Ferries has created a People & Culture department to illustrate that we take our responsibility for the well-being and best interests of our more than 500 staff members very seriously,” says Luxon. “This is all about working in partnership so the four values – Truthful, Reliable, Understanding, Everyone (TRUE) – are implemented, shared and a spotlight is shone on them. It’s also crucial to us that our values are more visible externally as it helps build a picture of what it is like to work at the company. The link between employee and customer experience is so important – we believe if our staff are happy they will deliver a better customer experience.”
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