Ferry operators told to think twice about huge price rises

Ferry operators told to think twice about huge price rises

Ferry operators are being urged to avoid large increases in fares that could affect the short-break market to the Continent.

Tour operators have expressed concern that cross-channel fares will be hiked for 2000 as ferry companies seek to compensate for the loss of duty-free revenue.

Fares have already gone up this year in preparation for the June 30 abolition of the sale of duty-free goods.

Irish Ferries' standard fares for 1999 have increased 15%-20% over last year, while P&O Stena Line's peak fare for a five-day return from Dover-Calais for a car with up to nine people is £189 this year, up 25% from summer 1998.

Travelscene sales director John Harding said a small increase in fares was inevitable and would not affect self-drive carryings.

"Rates had got to an unnaturally low level and sensible increases are unlikely to hurt the short-breaks market to France, Belgium and Holland. However, we'll be looking very closely at how the ferry companies perform from July 1 in the new trading environment."

He added:"With the revamp of on-board shopping facilities and investment in duty-paid facilities in France, operators maintain they can recoup lost revenue by increasing the numbers of people shopping even with lower profit margins.

"In September or October we will be negotiating the rates for 2000. If the operators do well then the least they can do is peg prices at 1999 levels."

Travelscene and Cresta have both pledged not to slap on supplements to packages for the rest of the current year.

Cresta marketing manager Jane Williams said: "There won't be a quick £10 surcharge for customers travelling between now and the end of 1999. The question mark is hanging over 2000 prices.

"We think increases are in the pipeline, but as long as the inclusive-tour rate and the public rates available to agents go up in proportion to each other and are not excessive, I don't think customers will be put off travelling.

"There is still an opportunity for cross-channel operators to sell duty-paid goods for less than high-street prices."

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