Leading the Balearics market with over 14,000 ferry crossings per year

Marcos Marí Washbourne tells Justin Merrigan how Trasmapi is improving the customer experience in the massively competitive market that is the Balearic Islands

Leading the Balearics market with over 14,000 ferry crossings per year
Trasmapi’s new high-speed ferry will transport up to 900 passengers and 200 cars between the Balearic Islands in Spain

To say that ferry traffic between Ibiza and Formentera in Spain is an especially competitive market might be something of an understatement, with no less than five different ferry companies currently competing on the route and offering more than 140 crossings per day in the high season. Market leader on the route is family-owned Trasmapi. 

Ibiza-based Trasmapi forms part of the Insotel Group, a business founded in the 1960s that today has diverse interests in the tourism sector. The group is divided into two main areas, the Insotel Hotel Group owns and operates 2,500 hotel rooms in the Balerica Islands, with hotels on all four Islands – Ibiza, Formentera, Mallorca and Menorca. In addition, it also has a project to build 900 hotel rooms in Mexico. The other area is the Insotel Marine Group which has interests in marinas – including Marina Ibiza – and shipping. Within the latter, Trasmapi is the main business while there is also share-holding involvement in ferry company Mediterranea Pitiusa and Formentera Cargo.  

The family began the ferry business back in 1974 to transport passengers from Ibiza to Formentera explains president and CEO Marcos Marí Washbourne. “We had built two new Formentera hotels, and with no airport, we needed to improve access for the guests. In the early days, the vessels were wooden ferries operating at 10-12 knots and taking an hour to cover the 11-nautical-mile route between the island ports. Our first ship was Burlón, a fishing vessel converted into a 300-passenger ferry.” 

Currently Trasmapi operates a fleet of six passenger-only fast ferries plus one high speed ro-pax catamaran between the two islands. The passenger-only craft are purpose-built for the trade which is a year-round operation serving both the local residents and the seasonal tourism interests. Operating over 14,000 crossings per year with up to 29 return sailings per day on the main route between Ibiza and Formentera, the Trasmapi fleet transports about one million passengers annually. 

For several years Trasmapi has been actively looking to expand with newbuild projects, to consolidate and to further improve its existing business, as well as studying entries into new markets.  

Marí Washbourne is pragmatic. “The current world situation has probably accelerated these plans as opportunities have arisen in the shipping market. This has allowed us to access several vessels that can enable us to enter the new markets with a guarantee of service that has always been one of our strongest points in consolidating customer fidelity.”  

The acquisition of Incat 86-metre, wave-piercing catamaran Condor Rapide from Condor Ferries and the 73-metre, high-speed ro-pax catamarans Fairweather and Chenega from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is a significant step towards expansion beyond the heavily competitive Ibiza-Formentera trade. 

Delivered to Spain by a semi-submersible heavy-lift vessel, the former Alaskan vessels are currently being prepared for their new careers. “Getting Fairweather and Chenega from Alaska to Ibiza via the Panama Canal has been a huge challenge – on account of Covid-19 we couldn’t even inspect the vessels ourselves. However, they are in immaculate condition,” says Marí Washbourne. 

“Our ferry business has been operating for 47 years, and we believe now is the time to explore new horizons and try to replicate our business model, based not just on growth but also on identifying customer requirements and offering the service they demand. We are long-term players.” 

Marí Washbourne is optimistic for the future despite the pandemic. Passenger numbers have been heavily affected by the pandemic across the global ferry industry, and the Balearic Islands with its vital tourism industry was no exception.  

“After 2020, we have seen a partial recovery in 2021, especially since July, but overall numbers are still well below 2019,” he says. “The number of ferries operating, and the number of crossings offered was heavily reduced in 2020 to adapt supply to the demand. From an economic point of view, we could – or should – have cut services even more, but we still needed to offer the best possible service, especially to guarantee that the local residents had minimum connectivity between the islands. 

“This has obviously impacted heavily on financial results for 2020. However, as we have a diverse company portfolio and the fact that we are a zero net debt company, this allows us to be optimistic about the future. Although challenges still remain ahead, we also believe there are opportunities, so we are cautiously optimistic about 2022.” 

As is the case across the global ferry business, in the Balearic Islands there is significant pressure to reduce the environmental impact of ferries.  

“Between Ibiza and Formentera, we operate within the waters of a National Park and despite the huge financial effort that we, and other operators, have made over the past five years with newbuild vessels that have cut consumption and emissions by more than 50 per cent, this is an ongoing objective. New technologies are becoming economically viable that will, I am sure, require further fleet renewals in the coming future.” 

Marí Washbourne says that one of the challenges he believes the industry is facing is to ensure that operators are being honest with their clients and with themselves. “I see a lot of ‘green washing’ in the way certain companies project themselves, and the customer often does not have the technical capacity to identify what is genuine and what is not,” he explains. 

“The ferry industry has a lot of room for improvement, but I also believe that a lot has been invested in recent years by many companies. And this is encouraging to see.”  

The three new ships joining the fleet are perhaps a stopgap solution to test Trasmapi’s expansion. One day, Marí Washbourne poses, with an eye on emerging technologies, “these ships will be replaced by purpose-designed ships.”

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2021 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.   

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Justin Merrigan
By Justin Merrigan
04 January 2022

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