Rolling on and off

Growing from a desire to export freshly farmed produce from Brittany, France to the UK, Brittany Ferries today operates a luxurious fleet of cruise ferries sailing between France, Spain, the UK and Ireland. The company’s modern fleet further comprises both conventional and freight only ferries that allow it to provide relaxing leisure crossings as well as freight and speciality services, transporting cargoes including abnormal loads, fast freight services, refrigerated loads and unaccompanied freight.

The company was founded during 1972 as Armement Bretagne-Angleterre-Irelande (BAI), before officially going into operation on New Year’s Day 1973. Brittany Ferries celebrated its 40th year in operation during 2013 and has spent in excess of four decades developing an exceptional fleet and highly competent team of employees to ensure absolute efficiency and customer satisfaction. The company today offers the widest choice of ferry crossings to France and Spain, with services departing from Portsmouth within the UK to locations in France such as Caen, St Malo, Cherbourg, and 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. Furthermore, Brittany Ferries provides three-hour fast craft options to Cherbourg thanks to the Normandie Express.

Brittany Ferries was previously profiled in Shipping & Marine during October 2015, during which time John Napton, Managing Director of Brittany Ferries’ UK Operations discussed the strategic decision to expand the company’s services and the launch of 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.

Since the company was last profiled, it has continued to expand its range of ferry services with the introduction of a new chartered service to provide an exclusively RoRo freight service between Poole in the UK and Bilbao, Spain. Furthermore, its ability to respond to both the needs of its clients and to deliver a turnkey range of ferry crossings was in part responsible for Brittany Ferries being voted the best ferry operator by passengers in the 2016 Telegraph Travel Awards for the third year running. “The establishment of the Poole-Bilbao RoRo service was predominately to take capacity of unaccompanied freight traffic, which represented a growing market. Indeed, we have continued to grow our Spanish market for the last three to four years meaning that we actually needed extra capacity to deal with it and to provide a continuity of service throughout the year. We have chartered a vessel called the Pelican, which is a significant benefit in the freight sector for abnormal loads where traditional vessels can struggle due to high yield factors,” John says. “With regard to the company’s success as referenced by its recognition in the Telegraph’s Travel Awards, while it is sometimes difficult to ‘blow your own trumpet’, my personal view is that we still aspire to offer a high level of service. By that I mean service of operation as well as client service, which is exemplary and above and beyond the industry standard and that of our competitors.”

In line with its continued development of new and accessible ferry services for a full range of travel requirements, Brittany Ferries has seen an increase of passenger numbers of 5.5 per cent between October 2014 and September 2015. During the same period its freight service increased by as much as 21 per cent, while the company’s overall turnover increased by 12 per cent. While it is difficult to predict whether these volumes of growth will continue throughout 2016 and beyond, John is confident that Brittany Ferries is well placed to enjoy further success in the future. “While we have enjoyed great success in recent seasons, it is very difficult to say how the market will behave during the present season,” he says. “There have been some one-off events that have helped passenger numbers in recent years, however, I think it is fair to say that France and Spain will see a bumper year during 2016 because of what is happening around the world. We are in the best place to facilitate that demand and we have expanded our capacity to deal with this perceived increase in demand.”

Further to delivering an excellent level of service in terms of both the availability and efficiency of its crossings, Brittany Ferries is keen to ensure that it sails an environmentally friendly fleet of vessels. To this end the company has completed an 18-month, £60 million investment into ‘green fleet’ technology. This includes the implementation of an improvement plan to improve the operation of its fleet, including the upgrade of six cruise ferries and the installation of fitted sulphur scrubbers. “We have spent an awful lot of money on retrofitting six vessels. In reality in today’s market with fuel prices being so low, the benefits of these retrofits are currently not being reaped. When we started in the retrofitting project the price of fuel was such that we would have saved a lot of money,” John reveals. “However, the price of fuel will go up again during the life of those vessels, which will make the investment into this ‘green technology’ in the fleet extremely worthwhile.”

During the coming 12 months, Brittany Ferries will continue to modernise its fleet in terms of both environmentally friendly sailing and the introduction of further technology, including further digital technology. “Every ferry company is currently going through a process of digitalisation because it is something that really has to be done. Technology is moving forward incredibly quickly and it is important to make effective decisions in this area to ensure high levels of connectivity,” John concludes. “Many companies operate legacy systems that do a good job, but do not feed in data including customer value management for example. This is both a challenge and an opportunity moving forward as customer expectations are changing all the time and we need to prepare ourselves to meet that challenge.”

Brittany Ferries

  • Over 40 years in operation
  • Luxury cruise and exclusive RoRo services
  • Expanding ‘green’ fleet