Brittany Ferries Faces Future With Optimism Despite Awful Year

By: Gary Andrews
Last updated:
GALICIA. Image: Strong Island Media-Portsmouth International Port
GALICIA. Image: Strong Island Media-Portsmouth International Port

At Brittany Ferries‘ AGM in St Pol de Leon, France, today, 19 March 2021, it was revealed that 2020 was one of the worst years ever for the company.

The Covid crisis and on-going Brexit concerns saw 2020 passenger numbers fall to less than a third of normal levels. Freight fared slightly better, with figures down by 20 percent. Company turnover halved, as lockdown measures and restrictions on travel in all markets forced passengers to stay at home.

Despite a dreadful 2020, the company is optimistic about the future. A five-year plan has been established to take the company through the ongoing uncertainty and back to normality.

Dramatic Turnover Reduction

Around 80% of company income is generated through passenger traffic: the effect that travel restrictions had on turnover was therefore devastating.

Brittany Ferries’ 2020 Turnover was €202.4 million, compared with €469m in 2019, a 57% decline.

Company President, Jean Marc Roué, commented;

“In the last few years Brittany Ferries faced a double strike, firstly as a consequence of Brexit challenges and then as a result of Covid.

On Brexit, the unfavourable Sterling-Euro exchange rate hit our bottom line. The value of Sterling plummeted directly after the 2016 vote and, since then, the company lost €115 million in potential income as the majority of revenue is generated in Sterling and costs come in Euros.

Brexit concerns also affected demand. Three potential dates for the UK’s departure from the EU in 2019 created uncertainty and anxiety in the marketplace and passenger numbers fell by 5%. Despite these challenges, we remained profitable.

However, last year, the Covid crisis brought our company to its knees. It struck a blow for the regions we serve and enrich, and the French seafarers we are proud to employ. Despite this, we are determined to remain part of the fabric of life in the north west of France as well as in the UK, Ireland and Spain and we must thank the regions of Normandy and Brittany, the banks and French state for their on-going support throughout this dark period.

With a collective will to return stronger, I believe Brittany Ferries will overcome the greatest challenge in its history.”
MONT ST MICHEL. Image: Brittany Ferries
MONT ST MICHEL. Image: Brittany Ferries

Passenger Performance

In 2020, Brittany Ferries carried 752,102 passengers. That was less than a third of the total it would carry in a normal year. By comparison, in 2019 it carried 2,498,354 passengers across all routes.

2019 had already seen a 5% reduction in passengers compared to 2018. With around 85% of Brittany Ferries’ passengers being British, the uncertainty of three potential Brexit deadlines created concern among passengers which hit demand for travel. However, this dip was dwarfed by the 70% crash in passenger volumes last year, caused by government restrictions that prohibited international travel.

According to figures provided by Brittany Ferries, tourism in France inevitably suffered a major decline overall. There were 231,000 unique visitors, staying 2.6 million bed-nights in France in 2020, compared with 857,000 unique visitors, staying 8.7 million bed-nights in 2019.

PASSENGERS BY ROUTE2017-20182018-20192019-2020
ROSCOFF – PLYMOUTH369,605328,13378,445
ST-MALO – PORTSMOUTH349,002325,19889,052
CHERBOURG – POOLE211,545207,83135,002
CHERBOURG – PORTSMOUTH166,910143,50617,394
CAEN – PORTSMOUTH929,929914,380357,675
LE HAVRE – PORTSMOUTH145,524157,81432,022
ALL ROUTES2,627,9612,498,354752,102
ARMORIQUE. Image: Brittany Ferries
ARMORIQUE. Image: Brittany Ferries

Freight Performance

Brittany Ferries largely returned to its roots as a freight-only operation towards the end of 2020

In total, the company carried 160,377 units in 2020, down around 20% on 2019. Market distortions were caused by stockpiling at the end of the Brexit transition period and amid concerns about the impending new border controls and import/export processes.

The Covid crisis also impacted freight volumes, albeit not as significantly as it did for passenger traffic.

FREIGHT ROUTES2017-20182018-20192019-2020
Units carried
ROSCOFF – PLYMOUTH4,9944,7872,906
ST-MALO – PORTSMOUTH9,5969,4503,522
CHERBOURG – POOLE18,05419,4997,700
CAEN – PORTSMOUTH100,265101,22095,245
LE HAVRE – PORTSMOUTH30,96223,2558,907
ALL ROUTES205,401201,554160,377

2020 Highlights

Despite the overall depressing tone of 2020, Brittany Ferries recorded some important achievements.

It won the third in a series of Brexit-related ferry contracts with the UK government (Department for Transport, DfT). This guaranteed DfT space aboard vessels to ensure the supply of essential goods like medicines in the event of potential chaos at short-sea ports on the Channel. As well as supporting routes like Le Havre to Portsmouth, these contracts reinforced the strategic significance of Brittany Ferries’ route network to national governments, as well as to local regions. A contract for the Poole – Cherbourg route saw the COTENTIN return to service with the company.

Thanks to the flexibility of its fleet the company was also able to meet demand from Irish and French hauliers to open direct routes connecting Ireland with France, thus avoiding the need to transport goods via the UK land-bridge. These routes were primarily operated by the ARMORIQUE, but also seen the early start for the Rosslare – Cherbourg route.

The “ferroutage” multimodal project also progressed, reflecting a wider trend in the ferry sector to link ferry services with European rail routes. Work began on the SNCF rail network which will allow freight to be carried by train between Bayonne and Cherbourg. Freighter COTENTIN made a welcome return to the fleet, in preparation for the project launch in 2022.

In December 2020, the company welcomed its new ship GALICIA to the fleet. This greener super-ferry, part of investment made before the Covid crisis struck, operates two weekly rotations between the UK and Spain and one from Cherbourg to Portsmouth. Like the ferroutage project, GALICIA‘s launch illustrates the company’s commitment to more environmentally friendly modes of transport and a drive towards energy transition.

COTENTIN. Image: Brittany Ferries
COTENTIN. Image: Brittany Ferries

A Recovery Plan

A five-year plan spans the period in which Brittany Ferries is expected to pay back loans that have helped carry it through the bleakest summer and winter in decades. There are four pillars to this plan.

  1. GREENER VESSELS. Two further E-Flexer class vessels will join sister-ship GALICIA, SALAMANCA in 2022 and SANTOÑA in 2023. Both of these vessels will be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG). The infrastructure to support LNG bunkering will begin construction in Bilbao this year in preparation for their arrival.
  2. COMMITMENT TO FRENCH FLAG AND FRENCH SEAFARERS. Brittany Ferries salutes all its employees for their support, understanding and hard work during an unprecedented period of disruption. The company has called for all French seafarers to be recognised as essential workers.
  3. SUPPORT FROM FARMING COOPERATIVES AND SHAREHOLDERS. The commitment and determination of Brittany Ferries’ founders, and the French farmers who continue to support it today, is reflected in a will to continue the journey taken by the company since 1972. Enriching regions, linking people and facilitating trade between nations is in the company’s DNA.
  4. IMPERATIVE OF PROFITABILITY. This is essential if recovery is to be sustained. This pillar goes hand-in-hand with on-going support from the regions, banks and government for which the company is grateful.
SALAMANCA seen with CÔTE D’ OPALE on 2 March 2021 at China Merchants Jinling Shipyard (Weihai).   Image: DFDS
SALAMANCA seen with CÔTE D’ OPALE on 2 March 2021 at China Merchants Jinling Shipyard (Weihai). Image: DFDS

Independent analysis

To aid recovery planning, Brittany Ferries commissioned an independent review of the passenger market by London-based consultancy LEK. In a wide-ranging study, they looked at external evidence such as projections for the UK economic recovery and internal factors such as customer profiles.

LEK’s conclusions were encouraging both in relation to challenges posed by both Covid and by Brexit. A rapid and full recovery in passenger volumes is forecast within the next few years. On Covid, LEK predict a return to 2019 volumes by 2022:

“The relative stability of Brittany Ferries’ passenger volumes over the last 12 years demonstrates resilience. It has an advantaged catchment area with customers who show high loyalty and repeat rates; 70% of bookings come from repeat clients, 27% from those who made more than nine reservations in the last three years.”

On Brexit, LEK suggest that concerns should be short-lived, noting that changes to the pet travel scheme are the only significant change for passengers. Pet travel accounts for around 6% of the company’s business. However, even this year, all pet-friendly cabins have already been booked for summer 2021 on UK-Spain routes. On Brexit, LEK concluded;

“While some consumers are currently concerned about Brexit’s impact on travel, these concerns should reduce as they become aware that actual restrictions are likely to have limited impact in practice.”

Looking Ahead

Commenting on the year ahead and the conclusions of the LEK study, Brittany Ferries’ chief executive officer Christophe Mathieu added;

“There is no doubt 2021 will be another tough year for our company. However, we will continue on the path to recovery, taking tough decisions if necessary but encouraged by the findings of this independent report which show the market is ready to bounce back.

 We will always place the long-term interest of Brittany Ferries at heart and as long as we continue to be supported by our staff, shareholders, the banks, as well as by regional and national governments, I believe we can navigate a path through the storm. The future for Brittany Ferries can be as bright as the rich history which precedes it.”

NORMANDIE. Image: Brittany Ferries
NORMANDIE. Image: Brittany Ferries

Polite notice: While we welcome our articles being shared, we request that links to this website are provided rather than other approaches. Thank you (NI Ferry Site team).