After 42 years of moving people and freight, Declan Mescall, Head of Passenger Sales for Irish Ferries, plans to retire at the end of July – and then to move himself to so-far unexplored places such as China, Australia and South America.
In an interview with Irish Travel Trade News, he says that travel agents should realise the potential additional revenue stream at their disposal by promoting and selling ferry travel to their clients – and not pass up the opportunity to earn additional commission.
When did you join Irish Ferries and what was your career before that?
I was eight years working for CIE before I joined Irish Ferries 34 years ago – so all of my working life has been spent in the movement of passengers and freight by road, rail and sea.
I have enjoyed a varied and fascinating career and I am lucky to honestly say that I loved every day of it.
What do you consider to have been the three biggest changes in the world of ex-Ireland ferries since you started?
Firstly, the customer travel experience has improved beyond recognition. Now Irish Ferries vessels are more like floating 5-star hotels – with large garages for vehicles.
People who have not travelled with us for many years are mesmerised by the range and quality of our onboard facilities. Unlike by air, travelling by ferry is a very enjoyable part of your journey because your holiday begins the moment you come onboard.
Secondly, and again in stark contrast to airlines, our ‘Customer First’ ethos means that we are constantly striving to exceed our clients’ expectations so that they choose us in the first place and, equally importantly, continue to book with us again and again.
Thirdly, obviously the arrival of the Internet has resulted in a seismic shift in travel booking patters. When I started in the business all bookings were made over the phone or customers visited our numerous offices. Now we have no customer-facing high street office and well over 80% of our business is conducted online, with quite a small and diminishing amount done over the phone, and the balance is transacted at our ports.
How many passengers did Irish Ferries carry last year to Britain and France – and what market shares do these figures represent?
Last year we outperformed the overall market and carried 353,000 cars and 1.527 million passengers.
For competitive reasons, as a publicly quoted company, we do not publish our market shares or a breakdown of our carryings across our route network.
What developments would you like to see happen in the world of ferries?
Over recent years ferry companies have invested massively in improving their vessels, ports, booking systems, etc and this will no doubt continue to be the case in the future.
I would like the general public, and indeed the travel trade, to appreciate the excellent ferry services that operate to and from the island of Ireland – and if they haven’t travelled by ferry in recent times they should take a trip with us, because I am confident that they will be very pleasantly surprised and will return time and time again.
… and in the world of travel agencies?
I would like travel agents to realise the potential additional revenue stream at their disposal by promoting and selling ferry travel to their clients.
It never ceases to amaze me how many agencies simply ‘don’t do ferries’ and thereby pass up the opportunity to earn additional commission.
Do tourist boards in Ireland, Britain and France do enough to promote ferry traffic?
We are conscious of our need to assist Ireland’s efforts in the recovery of the island’s tourism markets, particularly its largest market, Britain. We continue to work closely with all of the state agencies concerned, which includes close co-operation with Tourism Ireland in its overseas promotional campaigns.
We feel strongly that the British and French tourist authorities could do much more on their part to promote travel by car from Ireland to their countries.
What have been the sources of greatest pleasure during your time in the travel industry – and what were the greatest difficulties?
One of the most pleasant experiences I have enjoyed has, in fact, occurred 13 times – as Irish Ferries has been voted ‘Best Ferry Company’ by Irish travel agents in the annual prestigious Irish Travel Trade Awards in 13 different years.
It is always an honour to receive such an accolade from the professionals in our industry and it spurs me on to continue to improve our service to travel agents and their clients.
As head of passenger sales it is my job, as part of a highly committed team, to maximise our ticket revenue. Every year we face great difficulties hampering our efforts. Currently it’s the very high cost of marine fuel oil combined with weak economies in our main tourism markets.
Over the years the difficulties have included foot & mouth disease prohibiting travel, currency exchange rate problems, North of Ireland troubles, port blockades by French farmers, and increased competition, to name but a few.
So by now I reckon I have seen them all – and I am not phased as I relish a challenge!
What do you plan to do after you retire?
I don’t retire until the end of July so my only plan at the moment is to enjoy my retirement.
Fortunately, given the line of work I do, I love travelling and experiencing different forms of transport and have done so extensively over the years. So I look forward to visiting parts of the world that I have not yet seen, such as China, Australia and South America, as well as visiting family members in Canada, Belgium and the UK.
I have a holiday home in Connemara and I am looking to swap time in it with holiday homeowners in other countries.