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BF versus the competition

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Over the last year I have travelled several times to Ireland with both Stena Line and Irish Ferries and back from the USA on the QM2. It made me appreciate how fortunate we are to have BF as the operator of the routes in the Western Channel and to Spain. I travel to and from France at least a dozen times a year with BF. The ships are always very well maintained, the crew are smartly dressed and pleasant, the food is excellent, the service and cleanliness is superb. The boarding, loading and docking experience is generally efficient. In ten years I have only experienced one cancellation and two delays. By contrast the QM2 terminal in Brooklyn is a disgrace, Irish Ferries cancelled two out of my last two bookings, Stena Line ships have a very cheap standard of fit out, are dirty, poorly maintained and in one instance last autumn I came across an unsecured rail gate on the top outside deck with the potential for the unwary to lean on the gate and fall overboard!

No company is perfect and there will always be occasional operational difficulties which are unavoidable. In the overall scheme of things, however, BF does things significantly better than many others. From a commercial perspective the BF strategy may not deliver the best short term profit margins, but customer loyalty and premium pricing for a quality product must win out over time. Keep up standards BF, don't chase be tempted to cheapen the service or diminish the quality in any way in a misguided attempt to chase greater passenger volumes.

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Yes, the ships are a comfortable way to travel, but the competition lies with the airlines. My daughter's last trip to Brittany was a flight from Southampton to Brest, and her next will be a flight from Gatwick to Nantes. She just picks up a hire car on arrival. 

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It’s only when you use other ferry companies  that you realise how good BF actually are! Not only are they operationally efficient but their hotel side of operations is world-class. Not bad for a group of Breton farmers! And yes, one of the nice things about BF is they don’t have this profit-at-all-costs ethos like some other companies. It would indeed be a shame if BF downgraded these qualities.

Edited by zuludelta
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On 24/03/2018 at 21:00, wortley said:

Yes, the ships are a comfortable way to travel, but the competition lies with the airlines. My daughter's last trip to Brittany was a flight from Southampton to Brest, and her next will be a flight from Gatwick to Nantes. She just picks up a hire car on arrival. 

As a follow up I told my London daughter how good the Brittany Ferries service is  but she keeps saying that flying from Gatwick to Nantes is going to take just 90 minutes,  but going by ferry from Portsmouth would be 6 hours on the water and 6 hours driving. How can I make her see the error of her ways?  :)

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10 minutes ago, wortley said:

As a follow up I told my London daughter how good the Brittany Ferries service is  but she keeps saying that flying from Gatwick to Nantes is going to take just 90 minutes,  but going by ferry from Portsmouth would be 6 hours on the water and 6 hours driving. How can I make her see the error of her ways?  :)

Difficult ask I'm afraid!

Task simplicity or convenience is one of the most powerful drivers of human behaviour. So you could tell her the boat will be much easier if she enjoys shopping in France!

 

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I hear similar arguments from people all the time and have done for years. Yes, flying is quicker, but for the vast majority it is far from an enjoyable experience. Travelling by sea is, generally speaking, a lot more civilised and enjoyable and I know a number of people who have been simply amazed at what modern ferries are actually like, once I have managed to get them onboard one. But of course there will always be people who fundamentally do not like being at sea and there is little you can do to persuade them otherwise. I still think there is large degree of ignorance amongst the general public though in terms of the range of alternatives to flying which exist and the ferry operators need to do more to address this, but I think the likes of Ryanair et al have had things their way for too long and things will, slowly, start to change.

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I agree that the image of ferry travel is tainted by memories of, amongst others, Sealink. ( I wonder how many of those innocents who'd like BR back really remember how scruffy, filthy, tatty, un-staffed, insecure and unreliable it was especially in the days of Network South East?) As I recall nationalised travel was typical of all nationalised industries - go for the lowest common denominator. There was therefore no incentive for private operators to do much better. BF saw that simply wouldn't do and won because of it. Then of course they got too clever by half and by implementing yield pricing which came up with truly preposterous fares and costs for on board accommodation that would make the demands of the typical highwayman look modest they removed much of their competitive advantage in my opinion. Obviously the main competitor is flying but I do think they need to look at the aggressive marketing no being undertaken by SNCF who sensibly have a GPB website and UK based operation. Last year we got from here to Cahors for just about £100 each and back for just a little bit more. I have just done a test booking for BF on the same dates and it is dearer even without the fuel and the hours and hours of driving. Add the on-board meals and drinks and it soon mounts up. Worse if I go on the site in a week's time the price will be completely different. If I was BF I'd be very frightened indeed about the effects of any increased crossing border inconvenience on pax numbers after 2019. MInd you that I think will apply to all modes.

Edited by Millsy
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@MillsyI would agree with a lot of what you say , we’ve put of going to StMalo for a few years now due to cost and went Roscoff instead which is considerably cheaper , we’ve really bit the bullet this year due to job changes and other circumstances change but it’s not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, for us it’s really convince on a number of points that and I vowed never to drive on the M25 again in my lifetime.

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In defence of both BR, if they had been given half the levels of investment that the railways have in the past 20 years things would have been immeasurably better. You generally get what you pay for and they were set up to fail to a degree.

Sealink... slightly less so but they did generally appear to have a blind spot on the catering front 😊

Edited by hhvferry
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This thread has 'drifted' a bit from the OP's first post.  However, it has raised some interesting points, but I can't help feeling that we're not comparing 'apples with apples'.

As with much of what we do, it all depends on one's personal tastes and circumstances.  Wortley's comment about his daughter who chooses to fly to Brittany and hire a car rather than take a (BF) ferry is a case in point. I can quite imagine that a person travelling alone (implied, but I'd stand corrected on that) would find it more convenient and possibly cheaper to fly rather than to take a ferry.  Friends that we know always use the Tunnel, because (even with a very long day) they can do the trip down here to southern France in a 'one-er'. It suits them.

For us, we've tried every conceivable option for doing the journey to and from the UK.  For very short visits, it'll normally be a flight - family will pick us up at the UK arrival airport.  TGV / Eurostar is a very civilised way to travel, but its not cheap (although to be fair, the prices have got lower recently), but there can be some difficult legwork at each end and en route - Mrs G's mobility is less than perfect.  So .......... for most of our trips, its the car & BF both ways (St Malo crossings).  The crossing timings suit us, we don't need to rush, plenty of room for luggage, complete mobility at the UK end.  Sure, its not cheap either, but it suits us.

Just a mention about cost though.  I've said before on here that ferry fares are now but a fraction of what they used to be.  Several years ago, I did a quick comparison between the prices of the 80's vs today, obviously factoring up the former using a cost of living formula and it proved the point. Happy to re-crank the numbers if anybody wants.  For a family of 4 going to France for an August holiday, the crossing fares with accommodation will cost quite a bit, but 4 seats with any airline at the same time of the year + the cost of a hire car wouldn't be cheap either. 

Thus, its about where from and where to, time of the year, how many of you, how important speed of travel is, any mobility constraints (elderly or very young!) and finally cost. 

 

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20 hours ago, Gardian said:

. I can quite imagine that a person travelling alone (implied, but I'd stand corrected on that) would find it more convenient and possibly cheaper to fly rather than to take a ferry

As a person who regularly travels alone I find it more convenient to take the ferry. I also find it more enjoyable. Although I can see how it would be different for different people.

With regards to cost I am prepared to pay a little more to travel with bf than some of the other companies around. I do find a crossing with bf better than other companies I have travelled with

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Just to complicate matters...

For a solo traveller, en route to or from Caen (or maybe other BF ports) another low-cost option would be car sharing, via BlablaCar. (https://www.blablacar.fr/). Click on "proposer un trajet" and find drivers offering trips to your destination for just a few euros.

But for a comfortable trip, train wins every time (assuming the cheminots are not on strike). Not least because the stations are normally in the city centre  – the main long-distance termini in Paris  such as Nord, Lyon, Est and Montparnasse are in or minutes from the centre, compared with the trek out to CDG or Orly. (Not to mention Paris Beauvais, which a friend of mine calls the "fake airport". It makes Stansted and Southend seem positively suburban – depart Paris Maillot 3hrs before check in for a 65min bus ride, or pay €120-plus for a cab if you miss it.

And of course "check in" at the gare is minutes, even if security want to check your bags.

I know there are some people who don't like sailing, but for us the only downside of the Portsmouth-Ouistreham trip is that it doesn't take longer. 

 

 

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I agree, I love the vessels. They have an air of quality about them and they're pretty stylish. Some of the vessels have started to show their age a bit, but they're due for pastures new. Normandie and her orange carpets is one that sticks into my mind. Still a lovely well cared for ship, but could use a spruce-up, keen to see what will change when she starts on the Ecomonmie brand and route. BF vessels always feel younger than their age suggests. 

 

I've been sailing with BF since Reine Matilde's days and even then I do remember a marked difference in 'feel' between that and the Sealink ships of the time....even back when I was a kid! I was lucky enough to sail on Bretagne on her maiden season and Barlfeur on her maiden season and I was in awe. The only vessels to come close to the appeal of the BF ships appeared when P&O chartered the ex-Olau sisters and of course earlier than that, Pride of Bilbao. All 3 were lovely vessels, but they still didn't have that lovely stylish French feel of the BF vessels - especially when P&O teamed up with the tabloid press to offer cheap booze cruises, something I'm glad we've seen the back of. The old Super Vikings too, as fond as I am/was of them were turds in comparison.

 

I went, for the first time to Dieppe on one of the Transmache sisters late last year. The vessels are very clean and the staff were absolutely fantastic, but I felt the vessel had absolutely no style, no relaxing French ambience and very a drab interior.

 

The Dover vessels get a hammering, so you expect them to be a little thread-bare in places, but having had to take a P&O crossing back to Dover following a technical issue with Normandie, I was pretty flabbergasted at the state of the Spirit of Britain. I didn't think much of her interior (style) and many of the seats were ripped or badly worn. It felt grubby and really not pleasant, just like a motorway service station which is essentially what she is. The DFDS vessels on that route are far far nicer, but still not a patch on the BF vessels.

 

BF are not known to be the cheapest by any stretch of the imagination, but the old adage applies, "you get what you pay for" and I think for the price, you actually get a really nice experience with BF and the holiday really does start when you board the ships. Don't change these wonderful ingredients! :)

Edited by SimonP
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10 minutes ago, SimonP said:

Normandie and her orange carpets is one that sticks into my mind. Still a lovely well cared for ship, but could use a spruce-up, keen to see what will change when she starts on the Ecomonmie brand and route. BF vessels always feel younger than their age suggests. 

 

Simon, what makes you think that Normandie will be down played on the Le Havre route only offering an Economie level when to all intents and purposes she's seen as a route upgrade offering BF's full service?

With BDS returning to DFDS in 12 months it will possibly signal the much debated shift of Etretat back on to the Spanish route for a year meaning the end of the Economie brand on the western channel routes.

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Some prior reading. I can't recall now, it was a while. I would love to be proven wrong and to see her retain the brand she's currently sailing under.

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Very difficult to imagine Normandie as Economie.  Barfleur would be more likely to be branded that if any of the “proper” BF ships are. 

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For Normandy, one competitor is Eurotunnel.

I have a flat which is 30 mins from Ouistreham, 1 hour from Le Havre and 3 hours from the tunnel. Yesterday coming back on the MSM the car was marshaled into a space that was too small (not for the first time) and I ended up with grease on my trousers squeezing out of the car. You are tipped out of the cabins 30 mins before docking to find all of the decent seats are taken and it took 35 mins to even exit the boat ,followed by another 25 mins in the Passport queue.

My contrast, in the tunnel you have a fixed width and getting off is very fast. The only hassle is security and passports getting on and if that takes too long you are put on the next train. 

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26 minutes ago, David Williams said:

For Normandy, one competitor is Eurotunnel.

Le Shuttle passenger numbers are falling, last year they were down nearly 9% , 7% during June & July alone compared to 2016 plus they're expecting another fall this year. It's their freight loads which are rising.

BF are basically doubling pax capacity on the route with the introduction of Normandie with commensurate berth space and a raise in quality of the catering. I think they are more concerned with easing the pressure in terms of passenger, freight traffic and on the infrastructure of Ouistreham rather than competition from the eastern England continental connections.

Travellers are being attracted to BF, it's reason why there's a need to expand the route.

As for having a car space which is too small and being tipped out of your cabin 30 mins prior to arrival... MSM has some of the largest vehicle decks you'll find, their width are no narrower to others, in some instances they're wider plus every carrier's guest services staff want you out of the cabins at a similar time, it's an industry standard.

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3 hours ago, jonno said:

As for having a car space which is too small and being tipped out of your cabin 30 mins prior to arrival... MSM has some of the largest vehicle decks you'll find, their width are no narrower to others, in some instances they're wider plus every carrier's guest services staff want you out of the cabins at a similar time, it's an industry standard.

One of the reasons that I like overnight Etretat to Le Havre is that even though the ramp is a bit scary at first, we always get a decent width for the car and generally don't get chucked out of the cabins until arrival (as the next sailing is 8 hours later).  I will miss the Etretat if it is replaced by the Normandie.

MSM and Normandie can get quite tight when they squeeze too many cars on the upper deck to allow more  lorries, all I ask for is a space to allow a door to be safely opened.

One of the bad things about the tunnel is the number of migrants hanging around the approach roads, however you now get them at Ouisterham.

I intend to try out Eurotunnel again for one of our trips this year.

David

Edited by David Williams

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I was on the open deck on Etretat, I just jet washed my car when I got back to clear any salt. Not a big problem for me. And as mentioned loads of room in the wide lanes.

I quite liked her. She felt more spacious because of her low passenger numbers. My cabin was comfortable. I can’t think what more I needed on an overnight crossing. 

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To be honest I don't generally get salt on the car and the walk to reception is easy and on the level.

The cabins are comfortable and the time in bed is longer than the Ouistreham routes - we just take a kettle for the morning drink.

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1 hour ago, Ryan_H said:

When sailing on Etretat, how likely is it you'll be parked on the open deck?

I’ve been on the open deck almost every time I’ve sailed on Armorique , still more likely to happen on Etretat though I would think.

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1 hour ago, neilcvx said:

I’ve been on the open deck almost every time I’ve sailed on Armorique , still more likely to happen on Etretat though I would think.

That's quite strange. What vehicle do you have Neil?

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