Stena Line has reported its highest number of North Sea passengers for three years in its figures for 2010. For the first time since changing its Harwich to Hook of Holland operations to a twice-daily service in 2007, the ferry giant carried over half a million passengers in a year.
Stena Line is attributing part of the 8.7% annual growth in North Sea passengers to reinvigorated interest in ferry travel, fuelled both by the two new-build Superferry vessels it launched on the route in May and October and by difficulties affecting the UK aviation industry.
Growth during the final quarter of the year, which saw the launch of the second of the two new Superferries, was particularly strong, with 10,000 more passengers travelling than during the same period in 2009 (a 10.3% increase).
The ferry company reported an upsurge in all types of ticket sales, with over 1,000 coaches (25.2% more than the previous year) and 30,465 foot passengers (30% annual growth) travelling from Harwich to the Hook of Holland during the year.
In terms of number of bookings, the most successful segment was the rail and sail sector - Stena Line's "dutchflyer" product - which witnessed 35% year-on-year growth. The smallest growth was in number of cars carried, which grew by 0.6 % year-on-year.
The ferry industry as whole saw travel from the UK to the Continent increase in 2010. However Stena Line's figure of nearly 9% is above the average, with the excitement surrounding the new vessels and the quality of their onboard facilities having been a significant factor in this growth.
Lars Olsson, Stena general manager for travel on the North Sea, said: "Having invested over £375m and three years' work in the construction of our two new passenger-freight Superferries, which add 33 per cent more passenger capacity to the route, it's very important to have witnessed such considerable year-on-year growth in our North Sea passenger traffic.
"It's also the case that UK air travel was hit by various factors, from snow to volcanic ash clouds. The passengers who unexpectedly experienced our new vessels during these aviation-free periods assured us of their intention to return and to spread the word about the free WiFi, Dux beds and à la carte restaurants they discovered onboard."