Scandlines GmbH is one of Europe’s largest ferry companies, born out of a merger of the largest national ferry companies in Denmark and Germany in 1998. The company’s core operating area is the triangle between Denmark, Germany and Sweden, where it has the densest route network of any ferry company.
“Our core customer base varies slightly depending upon these different markets, but overall in terms of passenger traffic it predominately consists of families with children and older relatives,” explains Søren Poulsgaard, chief operating officer. “Our services are for those who prefer to travel by car in order to be as independent at their destination as possible, as well as without the luggage restrictions of airline travel. The other big part of our business is of course the large amounts of freight customers, as our routes really are ‘motorways of the sea’. Furthermore, we do have quite a lot of business travellers on our routes, particularly between Helsingborg-Helsingør, and Denmark and Germany.”
Each ferry within Scandlines’ fleet offers different kinds of restaurants, cafes, shops, and children’s play areas. In order to provide as much flexibility as possible customers can choose between different ticket solutions – economy, standard and plus – on the company’s routes between Denmark and Germany. There are also special tickets for frequent travellers, day-trips, and short-trips, including hotel bookings. Onshore Scandlines’ customers can enjoy a great shopping experience in one of its BorderShops where the company offers a large variety of goods ranging from excellent wine to perfume and clothes.
In maintaining such a high profile and wide ranging business Scandlines inevitably comes up against certain challenges. Describing how the company overcomes these Søren says: “One obvious challenge is competitors such as other ferry companies and other modes of travelling such as flight, bridges and tunnels. In recent years, we have also had to deal with continuous cost increases in bunker oil and other fixed costs. Our way of coping with these challenges is to ensure that we can offer our customers modern, state-of-the-art ferries and to continuously improve our service according to our customers’ wishes. As an example, we will be providing a buffet restaurant on board of our new ferries instead of the more ‘formal’ á la carte service as customer surveys shows that there is increasing demand for more flexible solutions. We’re also continuously modernising the rest of our current fleet, including a lot of ‘face-lifting’ measures on our ferries for Puttgarden-Rødby.”
The brand new ferries in question are the ‘Berlin’ and ‘Copenhagen’, which amongst other features, offer significantly more space for passengers and vehicles. Each vessel can carry either 480 cars or 96 lorries as well as up to 1500 passengers, which more than doubles previous capacities on the Rostock-Gedser route they will be serving. The ‘Berlin’ and ‘Copenhagen’ are also notable for the minimisation of fuel consumption and emissions, which will benefit both economic efficiency and the environment. “The new vessels are our biggest and most important project for the future and reflect the growing role of the Central European corridor for passenger and sea-freight traffic. By choosing the names ‘Berlin’ and ‘Copenhagen’ for the two new ferries we want to underline the growing importance of the axis Berlin-Copenhagen for tourism and economic co-operation between Germany and Scandinavia,” reveals Søren.
In total Scandlines is investing €230 million in the new vessels, and the extension of the ports in Rostock and Gedser in order to accommodate these. “In Rostock we will be serving a new main ferry berth, and have also seen ramps widened, new fenders, and an auto-mooring system installed,” describes Søren. “Furthermore our customers will profit from a new ferry check-in centre with shops, bistro, and offices. The remodelling of the Port of Gedser is part of the project ‘Motorways of the Sea Rostock-Gedser’, which is co-financed by the European Union’s TEN-T programme. The ferry port will be moved to the west, ramps will be widened, there will also be new fenders and an auto-mooring system, as well as an onshore building and a park between the terminal and the residential area.”
The last two years in particular have required Scandlines to go through a lot of changes in order to strengthen the business for the future. “The instabilities of the market during the financial crisis caused a distinct decline in freight and passengers numbers,” notes Søren. “Today though we are well on the way to regaining a lot of the traffic we lost. However, challenges like the continuous increase of costs in bunker oil still remain. That is also why we have chosen to put all of our energy and expertise in the building of new, modern and fuel-saving ferries – we aim to always be one step ahead of our competitors.”
It is within this line of thinking that Scandlines is preparing its strategy beyond the new assets and remodelling works: “We are aware that we need to prepare for a time when there will be a fixed Fehmarnbelt link between Denmark and Germany. At this point our focus will be even more so on the Central European route Rostock-Geder, which is why we are investing so heavily in this route. We will be able to offer more capacity than ever on this route once the new ferries are sailing, both for passenger and freight traffic, and look forward to tapping this full potential,” concludes Søren.