Discover Ferries is planning a recovery campaign for 2021 to promote the benefits of ferry travel in a post-pandemic environment and showcase the sector’s ability to deliver “a far-away holiday experience but close to home”.

The industry body represents 13 ferry operators and this week released new research identifying the need to improve consumer awareness of travel requirements after the end of the Brexit transition period.

Abby Penlington, who took over as director in September after two years as head of marketing, said 2020 had been “a really tough and challenging year” for the sector.

But she insisted there was “a lot of optimism” about a rebound in 2021, and said operators felt well-placed to tap into consumers’ desire to return to travel while retaining the security of being close to home.

She said: “There is a lot of optimism around the vaccine news and the reduction in quarantine. We’d like to go further down that road and have some sort of testing pre-departure to really open things up, but there is going to be a lot of pent-up demand and that is a real opportunity for the ferry industry.”

She added: “Many ferry routes are deemed to be lifeline services which means they’ve continued throughout the pandemic and I think that along with more flexible ticketing options, that gives people peace of mind.”

Penlington said that operators had resolved early in the pandemic to create a set of standards to reassure customers, including staggering of boarding and disembarkation processes and improved signage, additional cleaning and cardless payments onboard.

Discover Ferries has also promoted the fact that ferry travel lends itself to social distancing requirements, with most passengers arriving in their own cars, and plenty of space and open-air areas onboard with reduced capacities in place.

Penlington also said that members were keen to build more trade relationships, as the importance of expertise and building consumer confidence increased both post-Brexit and post-pandemic.

She said: “The ferry industry is very keen to work more with travel agents and get across the diversity of product available. It’s not just Dover-Calais for independent travellers; our members offer day trips, mini cruises and even hover travel so there are lots of opportunities [for the trade].”

She added that agents keen to explore ways to develop relationships with members could visit discoverferries.com/trade.