Eurotunnel fails to see the light

To lose one senior marketing executive might be regarded as a misfortune. To lose three within a matter of weeks is surely carelessness. Or, in the case of Eurotunnel, par for the course. For it is a company dogged by ill-fortune – and it seems that many of its recent troubles may be laid at the marketing department’s door.

Of course, the transition from managing an engineering project to running a travel business was bound to be a tricky one. But some of Eurotunnel’s problems look more the result of poor planning than bad luck. Last month’s “turn up and go” fiasco – when disgruntled motorists who were unable to board Le Shuttle’s first non-booked services picketed the Channel Tunnel entrance – was the sort of PR coverage Eurotunnel really didn’t need. And it prompted debate about whether Eurotunnel will eventually be forced to abandon the policy altogether.

This week, Eurotunnel began its twice-hourly services for Le Shuttle. And the company claims it is on track for the planned launch of its first full car shuttle service (every quarter of an hour at peak times) in July. Better late than never. But the fact remains that the price differential between Eurotunnel services and rival ferry operators is so small that it will not take much to make disillusioned cross-Channel travellers vote with their feet – or wheels – and opt for sea or airborne alternatives.

Which puts the onus squarely on a marketing department, now without a commercial director, a UK sales and marketing director and which is also one marketing manager down. For rest assured, there is nothing else to save Eurotunnel. Should it go belly up, no “friendly” governments will step in. The tunnel is built and finished. If it were to go bust, Eurotunnel’s debts could be written off, enabling a future buyer to tackle the market with a significantly lower price proposition.

No small task, then, for ambitious marketing professionals scanning the situations vacant column for their “next big challenge”. But those put off by the trials and tribulations suffered by Eurotunnel in recent weeks should take heart. Eurotunnel is not entirely without support. Ironically, of course it is also in the ferry operators’ interests for Eurotunnel to stay in business.

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