SO FAR, EUROTUNNEL A FERRY GOOD THING

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LONDON-After steeling themselves for a battle royal with Eurotunnel this summer, cross-English Channel ferry operators are enjoying an unprecedented business boom as French and British dignitaries inaugurate the tunnel's train service this week.

It's an inauguration in name only since Eurotunnel's regular Le Shuttle service, scheduled to start May 8, has been delayed until at least October. Nevertheless, Britain's Queen Elizabeth and France's President Francois Mit-terrand are due to toast the completion of the project in ceremonies at both ends of the tunnel, in Folkestone and Calais.

The delay, blamed on problems following the testing of Eurotunnel's rolling stock that will carry autos, trucks, buses and motorbikes through the 32-mile drag on trains up to half a mile long, means Eurotunnel will miss this year's peak season. As a result, it halted in January its $37.5 million marketing program. "Obviously, all our advertising plans have been affected. There's no point in spending a large amount on ads when the tunnel is not open," said Alison Keefe, Eurotunnel's Calais-based marketing manager for the U.K.

Nor will Eurotunnel revive BMP DDB Needham's campaign featuring a cartoon character Tin Tin lookalike as a typical continental European and taglines such as "With four trains an hour, you won't miss the boat."

Eurotunnel will want totally new creative work for the end of this year, Ms. Keefe said.

"It's a disappointment for everyone," said Mike Rayner, BMP account director. "But quite obviously, they've got to be 100% sure that the trains are running very smoothly. The last thing they want is to launch an imperfect service."

A TV campaign scheduled to break in February in France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and the U.K. also never saw the light of day but may be used this fall.

"The next campaign will talk about Le Shuttle's benefits," Ms. Keefe said. "It'll describe how it's faster, reliable, simple and with no need to make reservations"-unlike the rival ferries, Hovercrafts and motorized catamarans, called Seacats.

Missing the peak summer season will also cost the Anglo-French company about $186 million in lost revenues, said UBS Phillips & Drew analyst Richard Hannah.

The postponement also affects a number of retailers that had planned to open stores either at or close to the tunnel terminals.

"Obviously, we're disappointed," said Mark Woodhead, store development manager for W.H. Smith Ltd., a U.K. book, magazine, newspaper, stationery and music retailing chain, which was ready to open a 2,450-square-foot store at the Folkestone terminal.

"It's going to be a major travel destination," Mr. Woodhead said, adding that he expects 1 million customers in 1995, rising to about 1.7 million a year by 2000.

Others planning to open include British supermarket chains Tesco and Sainsbury's and multifarious retailer Boots Co.

For alternate transportation, the tunnel's misfortune has meant a bonanza especially since the summer of '94 was supposed to see P&O European Ferries, the largest operator on the lucrative Dover-Calais sea route, and smaller players like Stena Sealink Line clash with the giant beneath the waves.

While Le Shuttle won't be around to benefit from anticipated increased traffic, sparked in part by Eurotunnel's advertising, its competitors are. P&O, which claims 65% of the Dover-Calais route used by about 12 million vacationers, said its spring and summer bookings are 40% higher than in 1993. It has spent an estimated $15 million on a multimedia ad campaign from BSB Dorland.

The TV, print and outdoor effort for all of P&O's ferry routes calls P&O "Britain's flagship." In one outdoor ad, a close-up of the ship's funnel bears the line's white, blue, yellow and red flag beside the words: "The admiral of the fleet."

P&O has also been running special promotions to encourage customers to book early. In one, it offered a buy one passage to France and back for two people and their vehicle on stays shorter than five days and get another one free.

Stena claims to have increased sales by 10% with the help of a multimedia campaign from GGT, in which the service is called "Ferry affordable" and "Ferry good value." In the print, version these words are curved to form a reclining deck chair on which a passenger is relaxing.

"We knew the tunnel would not be a force to be reckoned with this year," a Stena spokesman said, while adding the company went ahead with its ad campaign in January to offset any advantage Eurotunnel may have grabbed.

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