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Ferry sector delivers the goods, the people and significant value to the European economy

  • £8 billion to European GDP, which is 17.3% of total shipping contribution
  • 109,000 jobs in Europe are in ferry companies, 16% of total jobs in shipping
  • Traveller sentiment towards ferries has improved: air has suffered (based on pre and post-Covid comparison)

(20 October 2021) Figures presented at Interferry, the global meeting of ferry chiefs in Santander Spain this October, reveal the significant contribution the sector makes to the European economy. It accounts for a direct annual contribution of £8bn to European GDP, 17.3% of the shipping sector’s £46.5bn contribution, and is responsible for 109,000 jobs. That’s 16% of all 685,000 European jobs in shipping. These, and other headlines were revealed to 260 member companies from 40 countries as part of a study by Oxford Economic, commissioned by Interferry1.

Ferry sector’s contribution to European shipping industry:

  Ferry Shipping Ferry as % of shipping
Economic Value £8bn2 £46.5bn3 17.3%
Jobs 109k2 685k3 15.9%

The figures underline the importance of ferries, beyond a pandemic where they have kept essential goods like medicines and food moving across borders and to island communities. Freight has kept rolling on and off ships, despite travel restrictions that have significantly hit passenger numbers. 

The good news is that, in a normal year, ferries carry around 4.2 billion passengers globally. That’s on a par with air transport. In the UK alone there are some 46.9 million passenger journeys in a year. There are also 15.07 million vehicles carried on ferries operating from the UK.4

European v global ferry sector – passenger and vehicles carried

  European ferry sector Global ferry sector %
Passengers 794 million 4.27 billion 18.6%
Vehicles 199 million 373 million 53.3%

“These figures highlight a vibrant sector of the British and European economies that has operated under the radar for too long,” said Abby Penlington Director at Discover Ferries. “Our member companies are the arteries that run across water, maintaining the flow of essential goods and services, boosting employment and wealth, while offering passengers a real alternative to flying. There is no doubt that ferries will continue to punch well above their weight as travel restrictions ease and we return to normality.”

In terms of passenger volumes, domestic operators fared better than companies connecting international destinations this year. However better news lies ahead for all.

Households have built up around £50bn in lockdown savings, according to analysis by the Centre for Economics and Business Research and Scottish Friends. Travel and overseas accommodation were cited as the number one area where these savings are likely to be spent.

Furthermore, 69% of respondents to an L.E.K. Consulting5 survey of 1490 people said they intended to return to, or increase their frequency of travel next year, compared with 2019 levels. 21% said they intended to travel more with nearly half of those citing “to make up for lost time” as their reason.

Ferry v Air Travel

L.E.K. Consulting’s research also examined nearly 3 million social media posts pre- and post-Covid. This looked at the five international ferry operators in the UK and easyJet, Ryanair and British Airways. It revealed an increase in posts expressing joy in ferry travel and a significant reduction in posts expressing fear. The opposite was true for the airlines.

Abby Penlington commented: “It is heartening to see in L.E.K. Consulting’s analysis the increase in consumers who value the relaxing experience that ferry travel offers. The opportunity to travel in your own vehicle, take in the views from the deck and a have bite to eat, as well as the use of large, open public spaces and access to fresh air throughout the journey not only gives travellers the confidence to get away, but also ensures they really enjoy their time on board.”  

Notes:

  1. Interferry is a shipping association representing the ferry industry worldwide.
  2. Source: The Ferry Industry’s Impact in Europe, Oxford Economics 2021, original study in USD converted at an exchange rate of £1 = $1.37.
  3. Source: Economic Value of the EU Shipping Industry, Oxford Economics 2020: https://www.ecsa.eu/index.php/news/download-2020-update-economic-value-eu-shipping-industry-oxford-economics, original study in USD converted at an exchange rate of £1 = $1.37.
  4. Source: FerryStat & FreightStat, IRN Research. Passenger journeys include Uber Boat by Thames Clippers London River Bus and Woolwich Ferry passengers. Vehicles include cars, coaches and RO-RO freight units.
  5. L.E.K. Consulting report European Ferry Recovery and Outlook produced for the Interferry Conference, Santander, 4 October 2021.

Photo Credit: Brian Smith