Discover Ferries reports current ferry market activity and travellers’ priorities when booking trips for the next 6-12 months. The industry body, which represents 13 UK ferry operators, has analysed current booking data and trends to reveal what holidaymakers are doing now and what lies ahead.
Since guidance for fully-vaccinated travellers changed, some European operators have seen bookings increase by more than 70% in the last week. The majority of these bookings are for travel in the summer and autumn of 2021 and have been made by both couples and families.
More than a third (38%) of people surveyed consider travelling with their own vehicle important, and ferry travel lends itself to this post-Covid trend. 81% of ferry passengers who travelled in 2020 chose to travel by ferry so they could take their own car, an increase of 11% on the year before.
Some of the reasons include the freedom to explore at their own pace and carrying unlimited baggage, something 43% of consumers said was an important factor when booking a holiday. Without baggage fees or restrictions, passengers are free to transport large items including sports and camping equipment.
Almost a quarter (24%) of respondents see being able to travel with their pets as important. 2020 saw a 3% increase in the number of passengers choosing to travel by ferry because they wanted to take their pet. The sector believes this is due to 3.2 million pets finding new homes during lockdown. This travel trend looks set to continue, as Brittany Ferries, for example, says it is already near capacity for pet-friendly cabins in summer 2022.
While uncertainty regarding foreign travel continues, staycations are up and domestic ferry companies are taking advantage. In May half term, for example, Isles of Scilly Travel reported its busiest travel day for almost two years. Meanwhile services across the Solent to the Isle of Wight reached capacity over May bank holiday weekend and Discover Ferries’ accommodation partners say many popular UK destinations are close to capacity.
In tourist hot spots, ferry daytrips promise the joy of travel by water, without the concerns of organising accommodation. Ferry trips in London, run by Uber Boat by Thames Clippers, saw a substantial increase in the number of trips made during May half-term when compared with the same period in 2019. As well as being the best way to explore London, the good news also reinforces Discover Ferries’ findings that more consumers would feel safe from Coronavirus travelling by ferry than by train, coach, or plane.
Domestic operators are also expecting the holiday season to extend into the autumn and winter months as travellers make up for missed trips from earlier in the year. Ferry companies serving the Common Travel Area (CTA), which includes the Isle of Man, Channel Islands and Republic of Ireland, forecast a surge later in the year, as more Brits benefit from full vaccination and are able to avoid travel restrictions in destinations. Indeed, some Irish Sea services are reporting higher booking levels than 2019.
Lockdowns have fuelled an appetite for the great outdoors. The Isle of Wight, accessible with Hovertravel, Red Funnel and Wightlink, has seen record bookings for camping accommodation into the autumn. There has been an increase in wild camping across the UK, which has led ferry operators to work closely with tourist boards to remind visitors to respect surroundings and local communities, and act responsibly when travelling.
And it’s not just in rural locations. Ferry journeys in London reflect consumers’ search for nature, with more people travelling between London’s green spaces, demonstrated by an increase in popularity of Uber Boat by Thames Clippers’ Battersea Park to Greenwich Park routes.
Brits are desperate to visit favourite holiday destinations including France, Spain and the Netherlands again and the return of duty-free shopping is further incentive for a trip to the EU. 36% of people surveyed identify the ability to purchase duty-free goods as an important3 consideration when choosing a holiday destination.
Authorities are also confident in the revival of the “booze cruise”, with cross-channel operator DFDS’ new ship Côte d’Opale set to sail with the largest duty-free retail space on the channel, and two new shore-based duty-free shops due to open this year. Also run by DFDS, the first store opens in Dunkirk port this month and a second 1,000m shop in the Port of Calais will start trading in October. As part of the ship refurbishment for its new Dover-Calais service, Irish Ferries has invested in the onboard shop to offer passengers a wide range of goods to browse and buy during the crossing. Passengers travelling to the continent in their own vehicle will be able to quite literally “fill their boots” and take advantage of generous tax-free allowances.
Flexibility with travel plans has been of key importance during the pandemic, particularly as consumers monitor government guidance and weather forecasts ahead of travel. As well as a marked shift in favour of purchasing flexible tickets, this has led to more passengers booking sailings last minute. So far this summer, 71% of day trips to the Isle of Wight were booked a day in advance, compared to the usual three-week lead time seen in previous years. In the peak summer season services will be busy so ferry operators recommend opting for off-peak sailings and taking advantage of flexible booking options.
Abby Penlington, Director at Discover Ferries said, “It is interesting to learn just how the pandemic has affected holidaymakers’ priorities when it comes to planning their next getaway. The good news is that there could be a golden age for ferry travel ahead. The space, value and flexibility ferry trips offer aligns exactly with what consumers are looking for in a holiday.
“While we await the return of unhindered international travel, domestic ferry routes will benefit from the popularity of staycations and daytrips. People yet to book a break in the British Isles should not be discouraged as there is still availability but it is worth looking at mid-week and off-peak crossings, which are a little quieter.
“European ferry companies are still affected by government guidelines as their destinations remain on the Amber list. However, trade from fully-vaccinated Brits, who no longer need to quarantine when visiting Amber list countries, second homeowners and expats is starting to come through. As the international vaccine rollout continues at pace, we are starting to see green shoots.