A storm is brewing in the cross-Channel ferry market after Stena Line, the second biggest operator, misled customers to win bookings.
Stena told passengers on the Dover-Calais route, the busiest on the Channel, that they would be travelling on the company’s super ferry, the 65m HSS.
The HSS is the Stena fleet flagship and the centrepiece of its 6m ad campaign which has been running for weeks. In fact, it sails on the Irish Sea between Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire and not on the French route.
The TV ad campaign, through J Walter Thompson, sells the giant twin-hulled HSS ferry as an ultra-modern entertainment centre, offering the type of service normally associated with a hotel and the quality of food found in a top-class restaurant. It also stresses the ship’s ease of boarding.
The ads are backed by route information and, while they do not claim the HSS sails from Dover to Calais, they don’t point out that it does not.
After receiving allegations that Stena has misled potential passengers, Marketing Week phoned the company’s reservations line to request a booking. The company told MW the HSS ferry, “the one in the ad”, would begin sailing the Dover-Calais route on July 7.
In fact, officially Stena says it has no plans for the ferry to operate on that crossing. Instead a smaller catamaran, one of its Sea Lynx class of vessels, will start plying the route on that date.
Stena claims it did not intend to misinform passengers: “We apologise if people have been misled,” it says.
It is the latest twist in a bitter war among the ferry operators and Eurotunnel, which have all slashed prices to win custom in the cross-Channel market this summer.
Observers expect the two main ferry companies, Stena and P&O European Ferries, will come to an arrangement to combine some services. However, this depends on the Government giving the go-ahead in a report due out shortly.
In that event, market share will become a crucial bargaining tool.