The ferry industry has faced stiff competition from low-cost short-haul flights in the last decade.
But car carryings from the UK to Continental Europe rose 2.7% year on year in the eight months to the end of August, according to Ferrystat figures from IRN Research. August traffic was up 4.6% on the same month last year.
On the short sea routes, which includes Dover-Calais, car journeys were up 6.4% to the end of August and 9.5% in August. Passenger ferry travel on the short sea routes was up 3.6% and 5.3% respectively.
Passenger Shipping Association director Bill Gibbons attributed the growth to “a push from the airports and a pull from the ferry companies”.
He said: “Negative publicity about London airports was so persistent this summer that people have started coming back to the ferries.
“It has been a struggle, but travellers are realising that ferry is a convenient way to travel without the delays they can face at airports.”
Gibbons admitted one summer’s good results are not representative of a total recovery, but said: “The ferry industry has lost business every year since 1999 but there is a lot of new investment so I think we have turned the corner and figures will start to grow again.”
Duty-free was abolished in 1999, which overnight halted the huge ‘booze cruise’ market of day-trip passengers. At about the same time, the first low-cost airlines launched and started to snatch business from the ferries.
Irish Ferries head of passenger sales Declan Mescall said: “The industry hit rock bottom but the decline has halted and we are seeing growth – not just for one month but our figures have increased for eight consecutive months.”
SeaFrance managing director Robin Wilkins said there were now encouraging signs of recovery. “After a long period of doom and gloom the car market has stabilised and the industry is back on track. SeaFrance has had its best summer ever.”
However, he warned that August growth on the short sea was distorted by the number of passengers who travelled from Dover to Calais because Stena Line axed its HSS fast ferry between Harwich and Hook of Holland.
Brittany Ferries managing director David Longden said business appears to be increasing again, but warned things will remain difficult.
He said: “The PSA figures are influenced by an increase in traffic to and from Eastern European destinations due to people visiting friends and relatives.
“We have had an ordinary year in terms of transportation, but our holiday business was up about 9%, so France is holding its own but not making
the strides it was in the past.”
Longden said the industry should not expect grown greater than single figures.