Discover Ferries director Emma Batchelor, Eurostar head of sales Paul Brindley and Cosmos, Globus and Avalon Waterways director of sales and marketing Janet Parton speak to Katie McGonagle

Agents have a “real opportunity” to tap into demand for no-fly holidays this year, according to experts in the rail, ferry and touring markets.

Discover Ferries director Emma Batchelor, Eurostar head of sales Paul Brindley and Cosmos, Globus and Avalon Waterways director of sales and marketing Janet Parton joined a Travel Weekly Roadmap to Recovery webcast to discuss demand for flight-free travel in the UK and Europe.

Batchelor said research by Discover Ferries, which represents ferry operators, found more than 50% of those surveyed wanted to travel within the UK and British Isles, and 27% were keen to travel to Europe.

She said: “There’s a real opportunity here. Last year, there were over 37 million passenger journeys by ferry and satisfaction levels are super-high, around 90% satisfaction, so I think it’s a fantastic product that we just need more people to know about.

“All of our members are really looking forward to working with travel agents. Some of them are already really active like DFDS, Brittany Ferries, Irish Ferries, P&O Ferries, Stena Line, for example – they all have really good relationships with travel agents at the moment.

“But some of the smaller operators like Isles of Scilly Travel, Isle of Man Steam Packet Company and even Thames Clippers in London are all looking for opportunities to engage even more with travel agents and people booking group holidays, so there’s a great opportunity there with fantastic product as people are looking for alternative holiday arrangements.”

Eurostar’s Brindley said a “groundswell” of interest in flight-free travel had begun prior to the coronavirus outbreak, as environmental concerns drove passengers to avoid air travel.

He added that the rail operator’s Amsterdam service would restart shortly, despite the announcement last week that direct services to Lyon, Avignon and Marseille would not run in 2020 or 2021, a decision he said was “based on demand” and the complexities of ensuring safety on longer journeys.

Brindley said: “One of the challenges of longer connectivity is those elements of hygiene, safety, wearing masks and comfort for people on board, very similar to the airlines where they’ve got more constraints for long-haul journeys.

“So we unfortunately took the decision to suspend the service to focus on those core routes because that’s where we believe the demand is in the short term.”

Passengers and staff are required to wear masks and a new seat map algorithm ensures sufficient social distancing at the time of booking, along with improved cleaning and air circulation on board.

Brindley added: “People want to aspire to travel again, there’s a pent-up demand.

“Once that momentum starts building, whether it’s in trains, aeroplanes or ferries, there’s going to be a demand for all sectors of travel. Certainly for this year, it’s going to be closer-to-home destinations.”

Cosmos, Globus and Avalon have suspended operations until the end of September, and Parton emphasised the role of a tour director in offering reassurance for guests.

She said: “Health and safety is paramount and we wouldn’t operate any holiday without strict protocols in place, so we’ve elevated our health and safety measures. These include safe distances throughout the tour, reduced group sizes, masks for guests and enhanced cleaning procedures.”

She added: “We can sell our tours as tour-only, we don’t need to sell them as a flight-inclusive package, so guests can make their own way to the embarkation point by Eurostar, ferry or train – so Europe is still available to people on a no-fly option.

“Domestic tourism is going to come back first. We’ve done some research in the last couple of weeks and places like the Scottish Highlands and Ireland feature really heavily in the destinations that people want to see in the UK.”

Agents can arrange training webinars to learn about the operator’s UK product, which includes 16 new tours added last year, and access marketing assets for social media or window displays.

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