A FERRY operator has said it is seeing much higher passenger numbers than expected between the Channel Islands and Normandy – and hopes that 2023 could be its best year since the Covid-19 pandemic.
On the first weekend of the season – 22 and 23 April – Manche Iles Express ferries between Granville and Jersey were 80% full on the Saturday and 90% full on the Sunday. The ferries to Guernsey the following weekend were around 80% full.
This was also the first time that French passengers on commercial ferries could enter Jersey with ID cards, as opposed to passports only, following the introduction of a pilot scheme for daytrippers.
However, Manche Iles Express said that despite the easing of entry restrictions on French citizens making for good figures so far, more needed to be done financially and politically to secure the company’s service in future.
Olivier Normand, sales and marketing director at Manche Iles Express, said: ‘This is very, very good, and of course it is much better than last year.
‘Last year, which was a transition year after a two-year break, we welcomed 40,000 passengers. We had set [as a goal] 50,000 passengers in 2023, but this year will truly be a record year since the restart.’
The company, which operates two boats, had its best-ever year in 2019, when 110,000 passengers travelled between the Channel Islands and the French towns of Granville, Carteret and Diélette.
Mr Normand said he hoped that 2024 passenger numbers could equal or even trump 2019, if citizens of other countries were also allowed to enter the Channel Islands with ID cards, and if French citizens were allowed to use their ID cards for longer stays.
The new one-year pilot scheme, brought in after the reintroduction of passport requirements for EU citizens post-Brexit led to a drop in visitor numbers, allows French people to enter Jersey and Guernsey using their ID cards for day-return trips only. This was agreed in March and has yet to be extended into 2024.
Around 30% of passengers in the first week had travelled using ID cards, Mr Normand said, but he expects this figure to rise to 50% in July and August. The initial weekend’s figure was skewed, he said, by a large proportion of passengers having booked their trips in advance, before the new scheme was introduced.
The goal set out in the company’s contract with the Département de la Manche, which owns the company’s boats and co-funds it, was to hit 50,000 passengers this year.
Mr Normand said: ‘This goal was set with passports being mandatory, of course, so with the lifting of restrictions and the authorisation of ID cards to enter Jersey and Guernsey, I think we can reach 70,000 passengers.’
The Département de la Manche’s requirements to continue funding the service were that passenger numbers justify their investment, and that local authorities in Jersey and Guernsey also contribute financially in the future.
The Channel Islands and Normandy are tied by ‘historical links, cultural links, economic links and tourism links,’ said Mr Normand.
‘It would be a shame to stop these links and lose all that. And I know that the States of Jersey, which was represented by [Economic Development Minister] Kirsten Morel is in favour of keeping these ties, this connectivity – this connection between cousins, as he says.’
Mr Normand said he also hoped for good weather this summer.
‘That would help us really exceed our goals and bring lots of people to Jersey, to all the islands, so that everyone can enjoy them,’ he said.