NS: Yarmouth ferry service on P & O radar

Carla Allen
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The Vanguard

A spokesperson for a ferry service that operates routes across the Irish Sea and to Continental Europe says it is definitely interested in the Yarmouth/New England route.

The Spirit of France ferry, owned by P & O, can hold up to 2,000 passengers. It serves the Dover-to-Calais route across the English Channel. — Photo courtesy of P & O

[YARMOUTH, NS] — A spokesperson for a ferry service that operates routes across the Irish Sea and to Continental Europe says it is definitely interested in the Yarmouth/New England route.

“It is certainly on our radar, and not only ours, I'm sure,” said Brian Rees, head of press and public relations for P & O Ferries.

He explained that the reason the company is paying attention is because it operates a range of ferries suited for different purposes: freight-only ferries, ferries that are mainly freight but top up with some tourist traffic, multi-purpose ferries that carry a broad mix of freight and tourist traffic and "big cruise" ferries on 12-hour crossings.

Rees points out that there is no “one size fits all” in ferry services.

"You need the right tonnage for the market and with the right tonnage you can create new markets too. The tonnage has got to be right from an operational perspective — you don't want draught restrictions at certain states of the tide for example."

The tonnage needs to come at the right price to make commercial sense.

From the range of vessels within P & O’s expertise the company believes its experience with cruise ferries may be appropriate for a service from Yarmouth.

“We don't see it as a freight-only service or freight-led service.  And we don't see a fast-ferry operation as we imagine the Bay can be an interesting stretch of water for a fast ferry in terms of ride comfort, and fast ferries are gas guzzlers which, with ever rising fuel cost, becomes a real challenge,” he said.

The company envisions a cruise ferry with ample freight capacity but with onboard facilities that attract tourists not just to get from A to B, but also to enjoy the facilities of the ship.

Those attributes open up extra marketing opportunities. The commercial strength of P & O’s cruise ferry operation is the extra revenue streams created. The business does not exist on ticket sale revenue alone.

Cabins, meals in the restaurants, drinks in the bars, tickets to the cinemas onboard and onboard shopping are hugely important.

“We do very well with marketing mini cruises: enjoy the crossing, a short break of a few days ashore, enjoy the crossing back.  If we're smart, we can stimulate demand at quiet periods by marketing trips like that, working closely with the tourist boards at each end of our routes.”

After reviewing the recently released expert ferry report, Rees says the route seems to point towards Portland but that the chosen port would be identified later if a formal appraisal is completed.

At this early stage all P & O has done is share some of its thoughts with the panel that published the report. P & O is now waiting for a formal invitation to the industry for expressions of interest. That will set out the broad scope of the requirements and the level of funding available to kick-start a new service.

"Let's be clear — on pure commercial grounds the reason there isn't a service at present is because companies can't see how to make it pay without some public funding. So the wider benefits of having the service have to be considered by the politicians," said Rees. "If we think it worthwhile to express a formal interest, we would then need to get people out to you to get into detailed evaluation."

Rees adds that there may be other companies taking an interest who are laying low for the time being.

“So who knows how it will pan out? The more companies that are interested, the better for Yarmouth surely,” he said.

Geographic location: Yarmouth, Portland

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