More than just transport

Today it plays a key role in the social and economic wellbeing of the Atlantic regions it serves, but Brittany Ferries was born out of a will to enrich the relatively isolated region of Brittany in north west France. It was established by a collective of French farmers as a freight-only operator, running from Roscoff in Brittany to Plymouth in the UK, with the first sailing taking place on 1 January 1973.

From humble beginnings transporting vegetables across the Channel, the organisation evolved into what it describes as a ‘travel and tourism facilitator’. This incredible development was achieved thanks to the vision and determination of the company’s dynamic founder, Alexis Gourvennec. He foresaw the advent of mass cross-Channel passenger travel over four decades ago. In 1974, a year after the first sailing, the company (then-known as BAI) adopted the name Brittany Ferries and, four years later, became a tour operator. The service expanded rapidly, establishing itself as an operation carrying hundreds of thousands of British tourists eager to experience the delights of Brittany and Normandy.

The subsequent decades have witnessed a continual evolution, with a recurrent theme being the addition of new vessels and new routes/destinations. Brittany Ferries now serves four countries, and assists guests with sail-and-stay packages, organising accommodation, cultural and leisure activities as well as channel crossings. Managing director John Napton, believes that this is what really sets Brittany Ferries apart from its competitors: “The difference between us and alternative means of travel, including other ferry operators, is that we have been involved for longer in travel for tourism. We understand that the holiday starts when you get on board, not when you reach the destination; that’s a clear defining point for us. We’re not the same as Dover- Calais because we are more than just a means of transport. We offer great on-board services, such as restaurants, cinemas, spas and even swimming pools. We have been around for more than 40 years doing what we do.”

Brittany Ferries operates from 11 different ports on the Western Channel linking the UK with northern France, northern Spain and operating from southern Ireland into France. Thanks to its carefully targeted route strategy and dedication to quality services, Brittany Ferries achieved a consolidated turnover of in excess of 450 million euros in 2016.

John points out that Spain has become a prominent part of the company’s recent diversification. Higher valuations come from longer sailing times, with on-board spend adding to passenger revenues, but freight income is also significant. “From the freight perspective, we offer a faster and more direct option to and from Spain, avoiding long road trips through France,” he added.

It is clear that Brittany Ferries takes pride in operating vessels that satisfy all passenger and freight requirements. But this philosophy extends into its wider operations, with a focus on ensuring all vessels meet the sustainability challenge. The years 2015 to 2016 witnessed an 18-month, £65 million investment into ‘green fleet’ technology, most notably retro-fitting sulphur and particulate reducing ‘scrubbers’ to six vessels.

In June 2017 Brittany Ferries confirmed the construction of a new cruise ferry to join its fleet, the LNG-powered Honfleur. Operating on the company’s busiest route, from Portsmouth to Caen, Honfleur will carry up to 1680 passengers and will come with 257 cabins, two cinemas, restaurants, boutique shopping and expansive passenger lounges. She arrives in 2019.

“Honfleur will be the first LNG-powered ferry on the Channel and she represents an investment of around 170 million euros,” John added. “At the moment, LNG is the greenest fuel we can use, and we believe regulations will tighten over time. As we see it, LNG is a solution that will take us long beyond the current regulations.”

Brittany Ferries also has plans in the pipeline for another new ship, having agreed a long-term charter with Stena Line of a so-called e-Flexer model to be built in China. “The ship will arrive in 2020, and significantly increase cabin capacity,” he added. “We have signed a five-year deal but there is an option to extend. To be built as LNG-ready, this new-build will also come with scrubbers. “

Alongside enhancing its environmental credentials, what these major investments illustrate is Brittany Ferries’ commitment to future operations, an admirable quality given the current uncertainties around Brexit. “We are currently spending time looking at what Brexit may mean for us and considering what contingency plans we need to put in place,” John said. “In the longer term we think the risk is very unlikely to affect our passengers.”

Things are different from a freight perspective. “There is still an ongoing debate, which includes ensuring that the ports we operate from – Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth – are not disadvantaged commercially,” John added. “We also need clarification on customs plans too, to ensure we are ready in the short term. There are no systems in place yet and it will take time to find tailored solutions.”

John remains positive though, and admits that while the next couple of years could be ‘interesting’ new investments are evidence that Brittany Ferries has a vision for the future that upholds the traditions of its founder.

“We were created by French farmers and they are still our shareholders,” he said. “Our success is not only about providing a great service for mainly British clients, it is also about generating wealth for the northern French economy, and creating employment in the local regions where we operate. Over 85 per cent of our staff are French and it is part of the Brittany Ferries’ experience that you travel with a French crew. When you are travelling with us, it must feel like you are on holiday the moment you step on board.”

This commitment is evidently paying off. In December 2017 Brittany Ferries scooped two respected travel awards within the space of a week. Both came following votes cast by customers and travellers, delivering an endorsement for the quality of service on board and destinations served by the company.

After picking up the prize for best small holiday company to western Europe at the British Travel Awards, Brittany Ferries was crowned best ferry operator at the prestigious Telegraph Travel Awards on Friday 1 December. These awards reinforce the efforts put in by all the staff at Brittany Ferries to create the best travel experience, and help to illustrate how the company is living up to its reputation as a worthy heir to the great traditions of the ocean liners as it sails into 2018.

Brittany Ferries
The leading sea transporter on the Western Channel
Exciting new vessel launches boost environmental credentials
Fleet comprises 11 modern ships, all proudly flying the French Flag