This article was first published in Spring/Summer 2018 issue of the International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
Fleet renewal is a priority for Brittany Ferries, says Christophe Mathieu, CEO of the French-owned shipping company. In particular, Mathieu is referring to the line’s new LNG-powered ship, Honfleur, which he says will ‘set a new standard for ferries operating on the Channel’ and demonstrates a commitment to green travel.
In December 2017, the European Investment Bank (EIB), Brittany Ferries and Société Générale bank finalised a financing agreement for the new, greener ferry. The deal is the first to be granted under EIB’s €750 million (US$936 million) Green Shipping Guarantee programme, launched in 2015.
“We must invest in technologies and vessels that respect the environment in the regions where we operate,” says Mathieu. “But equally, we must not forget that travellers expect our ships to be comfortable, relaxing and adapted to the digital age. These objectives are compatible.”
Honfleur will arrive on Brittany Ferries’ most popular Caen-Portsmouth route between France and the UK in 2019. “As well as being a clear signal of intent, and indeed confidence, Honfleur will also be the most environmentally friendly vessel regularly operating on the Channel,” Mathieu comments. “That makes me very proud.”
Every aspect of Honfleur’s interior has been carefully considered with the digital age in mind. “Free wi-fi will come as standard in all cabins and public spaces, and a digital information lounge will serve as her focal point, revealing more of the fabulous destinations that we serve,” Mathieu explains. “Quiet lounges, panoramic views and reading areas will complement cabins designed to sooth and reflect the unique ambience of a short voyage by sea.”
Noting that travelling by sea should always be the ‘richest’ way to travel, Mathieu adds: “Of course Honfleur will also come with a top-class, à la carte restaurant serving locally sourced meals prepared by French chefs. In addition, Honfleur will host a self-service facility, café and bar serving light snacks.”
Two cinemas have been included in the plan, alongside other areas designed to keep children and teenagers entertained. Like other vessels in the fleet, says Mathieu, the newbuild will feature boutique shopping and showcase original works of art by local artists.
Honfleur is all part of Brittany Ferries’ consistent growth strategy. However, the French shipping company, which now operates a fleet of 11 ferries that transport passengers and cargo between France, the UK, Ireland and Spain, had very humble beginnings.
Founded in 1972, by Alexis Gourvennec – a Breton farmer – the company originally exported cauliflowers and artichokes from France to the UK. It grew after the state’s entry to the Common Market in 1973 and soon established a route between Plymouth and Brittany. In 2016, the company celebrated 30 years of sailing between Portsmouth and Caen, as well as completing its £65 million (US$91 million) investment in emission-reducing scrubber technology. The 2017 order for Honfleur further cemented the company’s commitment to green travel.
According to Mathieu, 2017 was a successful year, despite difficult conditions. “For me, the most important was the commitment we have made to the future, in spite of challenges like Brexit,” he says, pointing out that, on top of ordering Honfleur, the company has also signed a deal to charter a newbuild from Stena RoRo. This vessel will arrive in 2020 to serve the UK-Spain routes.
Given the historical importance Britain’s decision to join the Common Market had on Brittany Ferries’ success, and the current uncertainty regarding the UK’s future relationship with Europe, Mathieu is hoping for clarity on Brexit in 2018.
“It’s the most significant issue for all ferry operators,” he says. “I very much hope that by the time this magazine is published, we will have a very clear understanding on the key issues that concern us and our customers – both passengers and freight. The biggest concern is on the freight side: we must have frictionless borders. Confidence and certainty are essential for our business, but also our customers.”
Security remains a key issue following recent terror attacks in France, Belgium and the UK. “In 2017 we invested in a comprehensive and independent review of security onboard all our ships,” Mathieu says. “The review led to a series of recommendations, which we are now implementing across the fleet. It is always prudent to review and invest in enhanced security, particularly at this troubling time, although it is equally prudent not to talk in too much detail about the actions we are taking.”
However, sustainability is the biggest issue that Mathieu returns to, calling it a challenge equal to both Brexit and security. “As operators we must take steps to improve what we do, to lower our carbon footprint and reduce significantly exhaust emissions,” he explains. “This is not just a regulatory challenge, it is a moral challenge and we must be prepared to embrace it.”
Mathieu is confident that Brittany Ferries will continue to thrive. “We are making our business fit for the future,” he says. “Part of this is about taking the weight out of the journey for customers, improving the experience from booking to their time onboard with us. It’s also about revealing more of the fabulous destinations we serve around the coastlines of the European west. I am passionate about working with tourist authorities and others to bring these to life for our customers – and future prospects.”
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