Earlier today, I had the pleasure of speaking to the Placentia Bay Industrial Showcase to share some of the positive news we experienced from our summer season. Through our initial analysis of summer traffic, we have seen significant growth in passengers travelling through both Port aux Basques and Argentia ports. Through Port aux Basques, we’ve witnessed a 5.4 percent increase in passengers and 6.7 percent increase in passenger vehicles, while on the Argentia service we have seen an increase of 11.4 percent in passenger traffic, and a 7.9 percent increase in passenger vehicles.
We know that a significant portion of the Argentia growth was a direct result of the Argentia trial discount campaign we launched earlier this year. This campaign attracted new customers who have never used our service, and brought back past customers who haven’t used our service in over three years. Those two groups of customers made up approximately 50 percent of the trial campaign bookings. This trial was something new for Marine Atlantic in an effort to better understand our customers’ booking preferences and the impact discounted rates have on overall booking numbers. Looking at the incremental increase in business, we can only say that the first trial discount campaign was a success. And we feel it was a success because it provided customers with flexibility and choice.
What does flexibility and choice mean? It means customers have an option regarding the type of ticket they wish to purchase at the time of booking. The Argentia campaign demonstrated that even though discounted prices were available, a number of customers still opted to book regular priced tickets to avoid the restrictions associated with a discounted ticket.
And that’s what we want to develop, a new pricing structure that presents customers with options and choices that reflect their individual travel circumstance. I will be the first to admit that when it comes to rates and booking preferences, Marine Atlantic doesn’t currently offer flexibility. The price is the same whether you book in advance or drive up to the ticket booth on the day of the sailing. There is no difference whether you book for a crossing in the day or night. Travelling in the peak sailing period of July will be the same price as travelling in an off-peak period such as October or February.
We’ve heard from our customers and they want change. They often use the airline model as an example for seat sales, advance booking fares and time of day discounts. What may work for the airlines may not necessarily work for Marine Atlantic, but these and other concepts will be part of our ongoing analysis.
Over the next 12-18 months, our plan is to run a number of different pricing trials that include discounts, bundles, sales, and to use those results to look at how we can develop a new pricing structure that better meets the needs of our customers. Of course, any changes will still have to take into account our continued need to meet budgetary and financial requirements as a federal crown corporation.
With the success of this summer’s Argentia campaign, future offers are being planned through both Port aux Basques and Argentia. We are currently preparing the next trial discount that will be offered through Port aux Basques before the end of this fiscal year. Stay tuned!