Ferry companies have found it hard to compete against low cost airlines and Eurostar, in addition to this the rise in the cost of fuel has proved to be problematic for the industry too. Shopping trips to the continent have also dropped following the demise of duty free shopping. “Between 1998 and 2004 passenger demand on major UK ferry routes fell by 12% to drop from nearly 50 million passengers to below 44 million passengers; IRN Research says in a press release entitled, “UK Ferry Market Trends – Where next?”
P&O as a result of the downturn has had to cut its fleet from 31 to 23 ships and closed four of its thirteen routes. Hot on its heels was Brittany Ferries who, according to BBC News last year, was considering buying two of P&Os ships, with the company also planning to take over and run services to Le Havre and Cherbourg.
Brittany Ferries has also faced its own commercial issues, but it seems that they have not been quite as serious as P&O’s in comparison. This is why Brittany Ferries have been in a stronger position to take over some of its major competitor’s routes, and buy some of its ships. P&O forecasts that the restructuring programme should enable them to achieve profits of £50m by 2006.
In spite of the number of challenges that have faced the industry, it seems to have weathered well and even the impact of the low-cost airlines is expected to wane. Even so, if you research the news that is available on the web, you might think that the industry is still going through a very stormy and gloomy phase. However, there is sunshine beyond the storm and technology now plays a major role in this return on investment story.
Sunshine Beyond The Storm
So there are some success stories out there, including Brittany Ferries effective use of the Internet for online bookings, which is demonstrated by ComputerWeekly’s article of 15th September 2005, ‘Online holiday booking boom lifts e-business prospects.’ Forrester Research even estimates that half of all travel-related bookings are researched on the web, and that consumers are twice as likely to book online as they were in 2004.
ComputerWeekly claims that Brittany Ferries’ results go to show that e-business did survive the dot-com collapse of five years ago, and that it very much presents a viable business opportunity. Travel agent First Choice says that 85% of its customers completed their bookings online, and Active Hotels saw a 450% growth in online reservations. However, it also warns that consumers can be turned off by poor web design.
Since it launched its website five years ago Brittany Ferries’ online booking system, has created some phenomenal results. Brittany ferries state that it has only really taken off in the last 12-18 months. Its website produces 40% of all direct business and its own online bookings have now grown by almost 100%.
The Growth Factors
The growth in web-based transactions shows that consumers are beginning to trust the Internet as a research, buying and selling tool. Previously customers would conduct their research online and then either make their reservations at a bricks and mortar outlet, or by telephone.
A whole host of travel companies, including those in the ferry industry, are also offering more and more competitive discounts online. Why? There are number of efficiencies that can be attained. Brittany Ferries, for example, states that they spend 50% less on their website than on a traditional offline booking and reservations office. That aside, the company has achieved a turnover of around £25m over the last five years.
In a recent interview Brittany Ferries’ sales and web team (Steve James – Sales Development Manager, Matthew Randle – E-commerce Executive and James Monteith – the firm’s webmaster) discussed why they think their company has been so successful online. They revealed that the results were achieved by:
- The firm’s more aggressive offline marketing drive to push customers towards its website as opposed to contacting its reservations centres;
- Offering an online booking discount, which it intends to increase this year;
- Launching a sleeker website in December 2004, which included improved functionality, usability and increasing the amount of available content (the site is said to have grown overnight from a relatively small one to one of 2,000 pages packed with information about its complete holiday range, information about its routes, information about its fleet and the ports from which it operates);
- Improving its organic listings on search engines (due to the above) and by optimising its keywords to improve its rankings;
- Creating an integrated online and offline marketing plan;
- The involvement of Goss Interactive which hosts its website;
- Goss helping the ferry company with the creation of an XML schema to facilitate the online booking of holidays and to sophisticate its ferry-booking engine.
Brittany Ferries’ team also states: “The combination of offline marketing driving traffic, an online marketing plan, and a new site design has increased site traffic so dramatically that we have had to double our server capacity to cope with the demand.”
“A website is a business’ shop window so it’s essential to have an online presence. Ensuring that our site has excellent content and functionality, reinforces our primary brand values that we push in our general marketing activity, and our website gives us the canvas to develop and flesh-out other areas of our brand.”
They claim that the results are very much in line with the rest of the industry, and there’s an increasing trend to drive customers towards the Internet. The firm is aiming to attain ‘airline-type’ levels of online transactions (ticket sales etc.), which conform to around 90% of all bookings.
ROI Starts With The Right Technology Platform
When Brittany Ferries first thought about using a content management system (CMS), content management was still in its infancy. The company looked at the potential of an Open Source system, but decided that it would not allow for sufficient integration with its online booking engine. They claim that the support that they would need and the technical assistance is not readily available with Open Source alternatives to a proprietary system.
Goss Interactive, on the other hand, has solutions that are more akin with the company’s business requirements and needs. GOSS are considered to be flexible, enabling a high degree of customisation. Brittany ferries also required a CMS that had the capability to manage three website in French, Spanish and German, and grow with its needs. Six years ago, when they were planning to launch and develop a website, Brittany Ferries was not aware of any other content management companies. A benefit to Brittany ferries was that Goss were locally based in addition to being the market-leaders at the time.
The Brittany Ferries sales and web team also provided some useful tips for anyone looking to buy and implement a CMS and a content management solutions provider. They believe that the most important question to ask is: ““Do you have an infrastructure to support, develop and maintain ?”
“For example, you’ll need staff or agencies to plan, implement and maintain the sites’ hosting and design, you’ll need webmasters, marketers and support staff with relevant training. Another crucial issue is whether you have enough content to get the most out of an Enterprise Content Management system. If your website only requires a dozen pages, you might as well build the site by hand.”
You should also ask why you need a CMS (whether an Enterprise Content Management system of an Intelligent Content Management system) in the first place. Success will come from mixing technical and commercial skills and acumen. The key is your ability to be flexible.
They also advise companies:
- To choose a provider that can develop its content management solution in an independently, completely separate from your own needs, so that you can benefit from any improvements;
- To choose a solution that scaleable as it needs to handle the way in which your business grows;
- To choose a solution that is customisable, one which allows you to custom build and tweak the CMS – including the templates;
- To select a provider that can fully support the CMS (provide hosting, server expertise, and bespoke solutions that enhance both the technical and aesthetics of your website)
- To work with a provider that fully understands and appreciates your business needs.
This is where they think GOSS fulfils all of Brittany Ferries requirements: “Goss have an excellent product in ICM 6…and considering the extent to which Goss are involved with out website and booking engines, the turnaround time is excellent: they have the resources, the expertise, and vision to provide solutions to suit our ever changing requirements.”
“The danger with content managed sites is that there is a danger that every page on your site looks the same. Our biggest challenge in terms of developing our requirements from ICM 6 is to provide a custom-made feel to every page/ section of our site.”
Brittany Ferries’ Future Plans
There is a constant evolutionary process in place to maintain the success and quality of the website. The next incarnation is expected to be launched at the end of 2006 or early in 2007. A FlashMX booking-platform is being developed. Although some commentators still have reservations about Flash, the team claims that it will provide them with a level of functionality that an HTML system simply can’t do. It will though follow the firm’s strict business rules and it will have to cope with content covering the 20 regions of France and Spain and the company’s 12 different product ranges.
Goss will be working collaboratively with Steve James and his team to ensure that the new version of the website will hopefully demonstrate as much return on investment as the website has done over the last five years. It is vital that they get it right, that the new version attracts more customers, and encourages them to book their holidays more frequently online. Part of this strategy will not just be the functionality, looks, and feel factors of the site itself, but it will also be reliant on a coherent offline marketing strategy, in which any cost-savings are reflected in the provision of attractive online booking discounts.
By Graham Jarvis MA
Editor and Media Services Consultant
26th September 2005.
About Brittany Ferries
Since its formation, in 1972, largely in order to transport cauliflowers and artichokes from Roscoff to Plymouth, Brittany Ferries has grown into the leading maritime carrier on the Western and Central Channel.
When Great Britain joined the Common Market, the local farming co-operatives joined with the North Finistère Chamber of Commerce to form Brittany Ferries. It was recognised at the time that the UK represented a huge market for both the strong Breton farming community and Brittany as a tourist destination. In other words, Brittany Ferries could ship fresh produce north and bring tourists south.
Thirty years later the French farming co-operatives remain majority shareholders. Indeed, the split between the various categories – pension funds, banks, individuals and so on - has changed remarkably little since day one, as has another feature of Brittany Ferries’ ownership – the French State has no financial stake.
In 1978, less than 10 years after it had started, this fast-developing ferry company took the brave step of starting services to Santander in Northern Spain, at the same time entering the Irish market with the Cork-Roscoff route. Both have grown steadily and continue to do so today.
As Brittany Ferries has matured, so has its significance to tourism in Western France and Northern Spain, with its influence reaching far beyond simply Brittany and Normandy. Not only is it a ferry operator, but it acts as a tour operator as well, supplying a vast range of self-drive holidays throughout France, Spain and, to a lesser extent, Portugal.
Today, Brittany Ferries operates one of the most modern fleets on the Channel, with 8 ships and over 2,500 employees. It accounts for over 50% of the traffic on the Western Channel, carrying in excess of 2.6 million passengers, 780,000 cars and 170,000 lorries a year.
For more information, please visit: http://www.brittany-ferries.co.uk or contact Steve James at Steve.James@brittanyferries.com.
About Goss Interactive
At GOSS we drive the concept of ‘Intelligent Business’. From solution development and managed services, to our highly praised training and support methods, GOSS solutions are based on a sound understanding of your requirements and the technology we use to meet your customers’ needs.
In order to achieve your objectives, GOSS is committed to continuous research, development and innovation for many business solution environments. For example we have pioneered successful integration of content management and on-line transaction solutions with existing technology assets where others have failed.
What places GOSS at a clear advantage over our competitors is our training and support, which our clients have identified as a key benefit. Customised to your needs, our training curriculum and support services are flexible to your changing requirements.
Increasingly organisations are faced with new regulations and GOSS ensures compliance is pivotal with standards such as W3C, DDA, FOIA, DPA, Basel II, and Sarbanes Oxley. As these are introduced and changed, we develop solution frameworks to meet them as a matter of standard practice. We also realise that it is necessary for your company and its individuals to be fully conversant with and able to meet the varying standards of compliance, GOSS can ensure our solutions address all of these issues.
In comparison to other companies our core technology operates across all major platforms and provides flexible integration with both existing systems and external organisations without compromising security. This emphasises why GOSS is at the forefront of our industry and why we as a result of our continuing success prove to be the popular choice for content management and on-line transaction solutions.
GOSS realises that with the integration of our solutions clients need the option for a 'beginning to end' managed service for their mission critical systems. This is provided in the form of our state of the art Data Centre. The facility operates under a secure environment, with demanding Service Level Agreements providing clients with the assurance that their essential business activities will not be interrupted.
GOSS BRAND VALUES
- Knowledge: Continually developing the skills and expertise of our team, whilst listening to our clients in order to understand their needs and requirements. Combining the power of knowledge and effecting a strong partnership principle.
- Intelligence: Business Intelligence and Logic - Intelligent use of knowledge and commonsense to proactively assess client requirements and jointly develop (with our clients) solutions that are efficient and deliver real returns.
- Precision & Clarity: We take a methodical and logical approach to providing clear and simple solutions for each individual business challenge.
- Innovation: Our solutions are continually evolving through R&D. Adding value, future-proofing and exceeding client expectations.
- Integrity & Sustainability: We develop and maintain relationships with our clients and partners that are open, professional, flexible and supportive.
- Dynamic culture: We are an energetic, competitive and client focused team. We will continue to be exciting and inspiring to work with.
To contact Goss for further information, please call 01752 517 350 or email Erly Oakes at Eryl.Oakes@gossinteractive.com or visit http://www.gossinteractive.com.
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