Leading the revival of ro-pax ferry services in the UK, France and Spain

Christophe Mathieu shares how Brittany Ferries is making its business more resilient in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and shares his outlook for the future of the ferry sector

Leading the revival of ro-pax ferry services in the UK, France and Spain
Travel restrictions between the UK and France were relaxed for summer 2021, allowing Brittany Ferries to offer more services from Portsmouth again

Ever-evolving travel restrictions, vaccine and quarantine requirements, and health and safety guidance have made it challenging for Brittany Ferries to operate its popular ro-pax ferry services between the UK and ports in both France and Spain since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Not only has the operator been forced to continually change its sailing schedules, but it has also had to reimagine its onboard facilities and services by implementing strict new rules and operational procedures to keep passengers and crew safe and healthy.

However, despite the unprecedented difficulties caused by the unforeseen pandemic, Brittany Ferries has remained dedicated to delivering the best possible customer experience. Consequently, passenger demand for its services remains high.

“Demand itself hasn’t necessarily changed – in fact there’s probably more latent demand than there was before the pandemic because people are looking for safer travel alternatives to airports and aeroplanes,” says Christophe Mathieu, CEO of Brittany Ferries. “Of course, there is a big difference between people aspiring to travel on our ferries and being prevented from doing so by all the rules and restrictions. Post-pandemic, we hope and expect passenger numbers to return to pre-pandemic levels quickly. We anticipate that 2022 will be our comeback year but it may be 2023 before we see ferries as full as they were in 2019.”

Over the past 18 months, Mathieu and his team have gained valuable insights and experience that will enable them to make Brittany Ferries stronger and more agile, efficient and resilient for the future.

“We have learned to work remotely, although this was not done by choice,” says Mathieu. “Most importantly, we have discovered to be a lot smarter about how and when we spend money. For example, there’s no point in Brittany Ferries investing to heavily promote a ferry service if there is no clarity about whether we will be able to provide it. Similarly, there’s no point in buying new ships if we can achieve an effective fleet renewal by chartering vessels instead. It’s a more cost-effective approach that we have adopted by signing a charter agreement for two new hybrid LNG-electric vessels from Stena RoRo."

Expected to join the fleet in 2024 and 2025, the two new hybrid LNG-electric ferries have been leased for 10 years as part of Brittany Ferries’ fleet renewal plan. One vessel will replace Normandie on the route between Portsmouth, UK, and Caen, France, while the other will supplant Bretagne on the service between Portsmouth and St Malo, France. They will operate on LNG fuel while at sea but will switch to running partially or completely on battery power while in port and in the English Channel. When berthed in port, the vessels will also be able to connect to shore power facilities to recharge the onboard batteries and generate power for systems like air conditioning, heating and lighting, thereby eliminating funnel emissions.

Both vessels will offer additional cabins and bigger parking garages than on Normandie and Bretagne, enabling Brittany Ferries to increase passenger and freight capacity on night crossings.

Armed with new charter agreements and a five-year, post-Covid recovery strategy, Mathieu is optimistic for the future of both Brittany Ferries and the global ferry industry.

“We could be about to see the renaissance of ferry travel,” he predicts. “Social distancing comes as standard on a large ship, and ferry companies serve destinations that are a world away from the daily norm, but not too far away from home. That gives us a big competitive advantage, and it’s one that Brittany Ferries is capitalising on thanks to the introduction of our cleaner, greener vessels. Our new ships will truly make the journey part of the passengers’ holidays, rather than just serving as a bridge to their final destination.”

This article was first published in the 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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By Simon Johnson
15 December 2021

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