Brittany Ferries reports strong summer 2023 passenger and freight figures

26th October 2023

Brittany Ferries today publishes passenger and freight figures for the summer season 2023, which covers the months from June to September.

Passenger numbers – all markets (June – September) – A return to growth

Year – from June to September Volume (passengers)
2019 (pre-Covid comparison year) 1,259,587
2022 1,046,761
2023 1,090,254


“These are encouraging figures, reflecting our first post-Covid year operating all ships, from all ports,” said Christophe Mathieu CEO Brittany Ferries. “We have shown we have a viable business model with further potential for a return to pre-Covid passenger volumes, if we are able to operate on a level playing field with other operators. This year will deliver a positive economic result and our new ships lead the sector on comfort, accessibility, and lower emissions. It’s a premium travel experience that customers rightly expect.”

Freight numbers – all markets (June – September) – A systemic downward trend

Year – from June to September Volume (freight units)
2019 (pre-Covid comparison year) 59,057
2022 50,868
2023 48,114

“While the majority of freight is carried outside the summer months, the summer trend reflects an overall decline in volumes,”
said Christophe Mathieu. “This is particularly worrying on eastern Channel routes, where we have been hit by over-capacity on short sea routes such as Dover/Calais.

“The ensuing price war, in which low-cost operators have an unfair competitive advantage over those paying seafarers a fair wage, has led to a year-on-year decline of around 6 per cent. That’s for services operating from our eastern ports of Le Havre, Caen and Cherbourg. Compared with 2019, the figures are even more challenging, down by around 30 per cent.”

Passenger numbers (by route) – Spain and Ireland show renewed momentum

Route   2019 2022 2023
UK – France 1,041,988 784,859 812,285
Brittany 351,797 292,368 296,331
Normandy 690,191 492,491 515,594
UK – Spain 144,376 162,978 148,796
France – Ireland 59,987 85,777 95,572
Ireland – Spain 13,236 13,147 33,628


Twice-weekly return voyages connecting Roscoff with Cork have helped boost passenger numbers this summer. Overall, on France-Ireland services, volumes have risen by 60 per cent compared with 2019. Year-on-year (2023 v 2022) the increase was 11 per cent.

The Rosslare to Bilbao service has reported even more impressive growth. 20,000 more travellers have crossed the Irish Sea and Bay of Biscay year-on-year, travelling on a new cruise-ferry powered by cleaner LNG. That’s an increase of 155 per cent.

“The Bilbao-Rosslare gamble has paid off. The objectives have been achieved. And once again, Brittany Ferries has risen to the challenge of regional development. Whether for freight or passengers, this route will deliver the environmental benefits and transport models desired by the State, and the regions served. By developing a low-carbon transport model on this new route since 2018, we are reducing the number of lorries on the roads and increasing the number of car passengers on board our ferries. This decision is now paying off, as is the decision to take advantage of Roscoff’s proximity to Ireland and the choice of new LNG-powered ships, pending the introduction of electric propulsion,” comments Jean-Marc Roué, Brittany Ferries’ president.

Elsewhere the data presents a mixed bag. Year-on-year growth (2023 vs 2022) was reported on routes connecting the UK with Brittany and Normandy regions. However, numbers were still well down on pre-Covid 2019 figures, reflecting the draw of low-cost ferry travel on Short Sea routes this year.  Brittany (down 15 per cent) proved more resilient that Normandie (down 25 per cent).

UK/Spain routes dropped back to 2019 levels after growth last year. The surge last year had been caused by the closure of the UK-France border during the peak booking period post-Christmas and into January 2022. This year’s data shows a small increase when compared with 2019 levels. However, with one fewer return sailing per week, the positive news is that the rise has been achieved with greater operational efficiency, and a concomitant decline in emissions.

Freight by route – A market still strongly impacted by social dumping on the Channel

Route 2019 (freight units) 2022 (freight units) 2023 (freight units)
Ireland – France 638 3,510 2,558
Ireland – Spain 1,657 4,199 4,453
UK – France 44,400 32,961 31,021
UK – Spain 12,340 10,198 10,082


The overall trend in freight is illustrated by summer 2023 figures by route. Brexit has delivered dividends, when it comes to freight carried between two EU member states, France and Ireland, negating the need to travel via the UK land bridge. Further growth was also seen on Ireland/Spain, where freight hubs in Rosslare and Bilbao continue to drive demand.

Data for UK/France routes paints a different picture. All ferry routes connecting the UK with France have reported a decline in volumes post-Brexit. However, it was notable that, while Brittany Ferries continues to struggle, operators on the Short Sea operating a low-wage, low-cost model have been able to offer reduced freight rates boosting their figures this year.

This competitive distortion has hit Brittany Ferries hard, particularly on freight services offered on eastern ports of Cherbourg, Caen and Le Havre.


About Brittany Ferries

Brittany Ferries was conceived in 1972, starting life as a freight-only service on 2nd January the following year. The first ferry (Kerisnel) linked Roscoff in Brittany with Plymouth in the South of England and carried a cargo of  cauliflowers and cognac. Since then the company has progressively launched, then strengthened its shipping routes. This year, Brittany Ferries celebrates 50 years at sea. Millions of passengers and businesses transporting goods by sea across the so-called Atlantic Arc (France, UK, Spain and Ireland) rely on the links forged over the decades. In addition to cutting congestion and emissions on busy roads, these motorways-of the sea have helped enrich local communities, creating jobs,  nurturing international tourism.


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