September 12, 2011 10:04 am

Transport: Ferries sail back into view

Business travellers can be snooty about ferry travel, but for some it is still a worthwhile option. Although Eurotunnel and Eurostar take the lion’s share of cross-channel business traffic, there is still a place for the ferry on a business travel itinerary. And on a ferry, not only can you take as many suitcases as you like, but you can also throw things like sports equipment in the boot of the car without having to pay an extra £40 for the privilege.

Andy Butcher, director of World of Patria International, a Kent-based drinks distributor, travels to and from continental Europe with drink samples. He travels about six times a year to France and uses all the ferry companies plying the Dover-Calais route.

As he says: “I get a break during travel [on the ferry] and I can take as much in the way of luggage and samples as I want in my own car.”

Striking French fishermen apart, he has few reservations about ferries. “They are far more appealing now than they used to be. And it is so easy to get on to the French road network from the port of Calais.”

When most UK travellers think about ferries, their focus is almost entirely on English Channel or North Sea crossings. But in Europe there are around 100 ferry companies.

Ferry web site AFerry.co.uk lists more than 70 with over 1,000 ferry routes. It has handpicked deals and offers for all travellers and has a special section for freight.

Companies such as Stena have made a big investment in two new superferries on the Harwich-Holland route – an investment some have questioned because of the ships’ huge capacity. However, Lars Olsson, Stena Line’s commercial manager for North Sea travel, says it sees a real need for “the ferries of today for the passengers of the future”.

The new superferries have hotel-like facilities, with Swedish-made beds, wine bars, à la carte restaurants and free wi-fi. Mr Olsson says on the Stena website: “Travellers appreciate the levels of comfort and value for money that our service offers and we need to be prepared for sustained growth and for the 2012 Olympic Games.”

Brittany Ferries, which operates in the Western Channel, is in the preliminary stages of talks with shipbuilder STX France to develop a new generation of environmentally friendly ferries powered by dual fuel engines. If the new vessel comes to fruition, energy consumption and CO2 emissions could be cut by 15 to 20 per cent compared with current ferries. Brittany is looking at the use of liquified natural gas to power the ships and lighter materials and an advanced hull design for the structure.

A further advantage of ferry travel is cost. For those taking their own cars, for example, SeaFrance’s frequent traveller scheme on the cross-channel route has various deals including buying 10 or more return tickets for £25 each way.

For travellers in commercial vehicles it has another range of options. Most companies have some carrots to offer regular travellers and deals are easy to find using websites such as www.ferrysavers.co.uk, www.ferrybooker.com, and www.ferrytravelclub.com.

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