Cruise & Ferry Review - Spring/Summer 2023

107 two-thirds of the way through the cabin refurbishment programme now.” The updates will ensure the existing fleet complements P&O Ferries’ two new vessels, Pioneer and Liberté, which will serve the route between Dover, UK, and Calais, France. The performance of the new vessels on what is the busiest trade route in Europe – and P&O Ferries’ most important service – will be crucial in helping the operator to achieve its overall business goals. “Our new ships represent the biggest investment in the history of the company and it feels like they are the embodiment of our ambitions,” says Hebblethwaite. “The new ships will feature much higher quality public spaces. I believe their introduction at the end of April and beginning of May will be a significant step forward for our Dover-Calais service. “Once onboard, we have to give our passengers everything that they need, so they can take time to enjoy the ship and relax before they head off for what could be a relatively long drive on the other side. Pioneer and Liberté will deliver all of this, and our crew will deliver an unparalleled standard of service. The interior facilities are first class, and I think the outdoor spaces will be really well received. We have laboured over every detail to build two extraordinary ships that will be treasured by both us and our customers for many years to come.” P&O Ferries is currently the largest of the three operators sailing on the DoverCalais route, a position Hebblethwaite attributes to the efficiency of its service. “We are currently carrying about 47 per cent of the available freight volumes and about 50 per cent of the available tourist business,” says Hebblethwaite. “The key to success on the Dover-Calais route is being incredibly efficient. That means we need to provide an impressive port experience and then board passengers and freight as smoothly and efficiently as humanly possible – which we can do better than anyone because our ships are double-ended. We don’t have to turn them around, and so we can load them much more efficiently. This turnaround speed gives us an opportunity to sail slightly slower and cut 40 per cent of our running costs, as well as a corresponding volume of carbon dioxide emissions.” Hebblethwaite is clear that P&O Ferries must make difficult decisions as it continues to pursue efficiency, which he puts down to historical issues within the business. “We are a business that needs to remove inefficiencies and loss-making dynamics that we have not dealt with in the past, and some of that involves closing or flexing routes,” he says. “But all of it is designed to make P&O Ferries the most efficient and competitive operator in the market and on the back of that we will achieve our vision for growth. We’re competitive on price and I think we offer a better service. And an increasingly more sustainable service too. We took 85,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions out of the Channel last year and we have plans to do much more.” With a range of opportunities and challenges, it’s clear that P&O Ferries is undergoing a period of transformation. The company is looking to come out as a stronger, more sustainable business that will last into the future. “We are a very different P&O Ferries today and we are becoming the best version of ourselves,” says Hebblethwaite. “I like to think of us becoming an increasingly sophisticated, more dynamic business.” INTERVIEW