It’s good news for online travel in Europe; PhoCusWright estimates that the European online travel market will grow from an estimated $2.9 billion worth of gross bookings in 2000 to $10.9 billion by 2002.
The report containing these estimates also acknowledges the fact that Europeans tend to book a variety of different travel modes and not predominately air and car, as in North America.
Despite the recent disruption to the British rail network, train travel remains popular and much use is made of the extensive ferry and shipping networks. The problem is how to combine these different modes in a single itinerary and the fact is, it cannot be done.
Travelfusion bills itself as the first multi-modal comparison site and purports to offer options for a variety of different journeys, ranked either by speed or by cost. Unfortunately the site only searches one ferry line, P&O Stena, but will give an accurate time and cost for a journey by car Europe-wide. The PhoCusWright Report also points out the predilection for Europeans to take a last-minute trip, which is what I did this weekend.
France is the closest to me here in England, so on Thursday I thought I would plan a mini-break by ferry, out one way and returning another. Every ferry operator has it’s own website and generally they are excellent, but planning a journey assumes that a passenger has geographical knowledge of the various routes.
First stop was an excellent source of public transport information for the U.K., which includes links to ALL transport sites, including ferries and air, complete with a graphical interface map, pti.org.uk. Discounting the short-sea crossings as unsuitable for my needs (I wanted more of a cruise) and as several ships are out for refit at this quiet time of year, my choices were somewhat limited to travelling out and back from Portsmouth.
Brittany Ferries offer superb cuisine on board their vessels and provide an excellent site at brittany-ferries.com, so that was my first ‘port-of-call’; the overnight sailing to St Malo showed availability. A suitable return sailing was available from Le Havre on P&O Stena (poportsmouth.com) on the Sunday morning, but I had to get from one port to the other!
Rail travel in France is a delight, especially on their TGVs at 186 mph and the French rail site makes booking easy at sncf.com. Tickets are held for issue at the starting station until 30 minutes before departure. The schedule provided for travel via Paris, with time to ‘promenade’, as an added bonus at a very reasonable fare.
A visit to expedia.co.uk secured me a room at the Ibis Le Havre for the Saturday night and finally, as my travel to and from Portsmouth was to be by rail in Britain, thetrainline.com was used to check fares, tickets being bought at the originating station.
A great source for last minute hotel availability Europe-wide www.islaterooms.com and I haven’t been disappointed when using the oft-maligned lastminute.com. I had a wonderful weekend but, if you count up the number of hyperlinks (9), I doubt if many ‘non-ferry-loving-travel-writers’ would have had the patience to have even embarked on the planning stage!