Strong roots

Celebrating 40 years in the business in 2013, well-established ferry operator Brittany Ferries has spent the last four decades developing an exceptional fleet and highly competent team of employees to ensure absolute efficiency and customer satisfaction. Offering the widest choice of ferry crossings to France and Spain, the company departs from Portsmouth to locations in France such as Caen, St Malo, Cherbourg, and most recently Le Havre. For journeys to Caen, it uses its cruise ferries Mont St Michel and Normandie and to St Malo it uses Bretagne and its luxury flagship Pont-Aven. Moreover, the company provides three-hour fast craft options to Cherbourg thanks to the Normandie Express, which is also currently used to provide fast sailing routes to Le Havre.

Additionally Brittany Ferries offers routes from Plymouth to Roscoff and St Malo; the former uses the Armorique and Pont-Aven vessels, while the latter offers overnight ferry services during the winter months. The route from Poole to Cherbourg has the Barfleur ferry available for four and-a-half-hour services, while its luxury cruise ferry, Cap Finistère operates Portsmouth-Santander & Bilbao. Pont-Aven operates Portsmouth-Santander & Plymouth to Santander.

In March 2014, the company made the strategic decision to expand its services and launched the Brittany Ferries économie brand. Aimed at customers who wish to cost-effectively travel to France or Spain without the cruise-style experience that Brittany Ferries normally provides, Brittany Ferries économie offers one-way fares for a car plus two from just £70 to France and £209 to Spain. Although facilities and space on board are limited in comparison to Brittany Ferries’ popular and well-reputed cruise-ferry services, the économie branded ship Etretat still includes a bar, boutique, café and restaurant, alongside free Wi-Fi access and a reading lounge.

Following noticeable demand for its no-frills service, Brittany Ferries added another ship, the Bay de Seine, to its économie fleet to boost capacity and provide clients with a wide range of sailing times. Launched in May 2015, the Bay de Seine also brings the total number of services to Spain up to seven a week; altogether, the company now has ten routes and up to 142 weekly sailings, which provides customers with unrivalled flexibility and choice. “The Baie de Seine is on a medium term charter and, much like Etretat, she has less onboard services in comparison to our standard vessels but offering a competitive price. Over the last 15 months I would say the économie service has been going much better than we ever anticipated; one reason for this is that DFDS has closed its Portsmouth and Le Havre service, which has vacated a market and port that was already in existence. We have also found that having a second ship and night rotations on certain days of the week has really helped the freight market to consolidate and utilise this line,” says John Napton, Managing Director of Brittany Ferries UK Operations.

“We have noticed heavy freight and more price-conscious clients have used this line heavily, some of which were even existing clients, however, this means we now have more capacity to sell more tickets to Spain on our standard fleet throughout the summer, which is great,” he adds. “Five years ago we were travelling to Spain twice a week; we are now travelling there seven times a week, which really provides flexibility to people’s itineraries.”

While business has remained positive for Brittany Ferries since it was previously featured in Shipping and Marine magazine in November 2014, the company has been affected by MARPOL legislation, with an ongoing three-year £50 million improvement plan currently in place to upgrade six vessels and install sulphur scrubbers. “We began embarking on our scrubber refits for three of our vessels in November 2014; these have since been completed and the vessels are back in service. The scrubbers cost in the region of £10 million pounds per vessel and it means we can burn the same fuel we were burning previously, so it is essentially a lot of money spent to stand still, but rules are rules.

“Another important issue from our point of view is how long each vessel is out of service to have these refits, it takes approximately ten to 12 weeks, which means we have had a reduced commercial offering to our clients. This is the invisible cost to this process and we will be thankful in March 2016 when the upgrades and installations are completed and we can get our schedules back in place.” Once the scrubbers are installed, the ships’ exhausts will be cleaned and 90 per cent of the sulphur dioxide will be removed, thus ensuring Brittany Ferries will comply with the new MARPOL VI limit of 0.1 per cent sulphur emissions.

In March 2015 the company announced the return of its Poole to Cherbourg ferry, Barfleur, and marked the special occasion with three great-value holiday offers to Cherbourg. This included a one night ‘Cruise & Stay’ hotel break from £64 per person to Cherbourg, a one night ‘Gourmet Break’ from £89 per person to Cherbourg and a ‘Cruise & Stay’ hotel break from £89 per person to Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, just east of Cherbourg. “The refit and return of Barfleur gives some assurance to our clients that she is here to stay for a period of time. The port of Poole is right in the middle of our Portsmouth and Plymouth offering, so it is very important to regain confidence that we are going to continue operating on the western channel,” explains John.

Following these major investments and developments, Brittany Ferries now has the biggest fleet it has ever operated; as such, it is now focused on boosting efficiency, as John notes: “We want to generate new turnover on roughly the same overhead, which is where efficiency comes in. We aren’t talking about cutting costs or people, but instead maintaining what we have and pushing for more turnover. To do this we will maintain our premium brand for our clients and deliver a fantastic experience, and the only way to do this is by matching their expectations as best you can in what has been pretty rough trading over the last six years.”

Despite facing the challenges of the economic crisis, Brittany Ferries is currently enjoying the benefits of sterling being very strong and France and Spain becoming affordable destinations. In addition to this, oil prices have remained low, which is further going to create a financially positive year for the company that could potentially result in a new build being announced over the next 12 months.

Moving forward, Brittany Ferries will focus on consolidating the recent changes that have taken place, most notably with regards to DFDS closing its Portsmouth to Le Havre service and the resulting added exposure to Northern Spain. “We want to make sure we continue to deliver an effective service and maintain our brand. With the scrubbers completed in March 2016 we will have our full fleet back, which will mean we have the most extensive schedule we have ever had; this is what we wanted and we are looking forward to reaching this point in our history,” John concludes.

Brittany Ferries

Operates a luxurious fleet of cruise ferries

Undergoing a three-year £50 million improvement plan

Launched Brittany Ferries économie in February 2014