Booze Cruises Still Booming

Friday, October 29, 1999
Despite doom and gloom forecasts from ferry operators, the abolition of duty free sales has not slowed the demand for ferry day-trippers. Four months after the European Union abolished duty-free sales, thousands of eager British "Booze Cruisers" still pour daily across the English Channel, lured by the cheaper prices in France. Paris and London may be locked in an angry war of words over France's continuing ban on British beef, but day-trippers cannot resist the lure of cigarette and whisky bargains. "If anything, more people have been traveling recently," said Gail Isted, spokeswoman for P&O Stena Line, which carries 12 million passengers a year on its Dover-Calais run. Despite dire warnings from the duty-free industry of mammoth job losses, the European Union abolished the much-loved travel perk of duty-free allowances from the end of June. P&O has had to adapt with alacrity. Once the ferries are half way across to France, its giant shops open and in pour the day-trippers to pick up cigarette and drink bargains at French prices - significantly below the British equivalent. The ferries have just 40 minutes to loosen the customers' purse strings. "It has to be a slick operation," she said. "Duty-free has gone but it is not the end of the road. It is going to be a long process to get the message across that they can buy in bulk at low prices," she said. "We have never sold so much tobacco but we are not on the same margin as we used to be. By selling in bulk, we are trying to recoup the margin," she added. The yawning tax differentials between Britain - angry consumers call it "Ripoff Land" - and the continent have been a major attraction for day-trippers. Under the rules of the EU's single market, Britons are allowed to return home with hefty allowances of spirits and tobacco for their own personal use. But duty-free allowances for planes and ferries have now been swept away. The battle for customers is being waged both above and below the waves on the English Channel. Anglo-French Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel said the abolition of duty-free would harm profits for a year but enhance performance after that. - (By Paul Majendie, Reuters)
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