ST. JOHN’S, NL – Customer satisfaction and ferry traffic are both on an upswing, according to Marine Atlantic.
The Crown corporation is holding its 2017 annual general meeting in St. John’s today.
“For me the highlight was the fact that we had our passenger traffic grow two years in a row, back to back, and that’s the first time that’s happened in about 20 years,” Marine Atlantic president and CEO Paul Griffin told the Gulf News via phone interview.
The meeting covered a variety of topics including financial statements, corporate and shareholder investment, infrastructure upgrades and business change, customer service initiatives and fleet renewal.
Marine Atlantic reported revenue of $111.7 million, while the service cost $209.4 million to operate.
The federal subsidy, currently being challenged by Oceanex in federal court, provided another $94 million, and Marine Atlantic reported achieving a 70 percent cost recovery, which falls within the targeted range as directed by the Government of Canada.
Customer satisfaction with the ferry service continues to improve. Marine Atlantic reported satisfaction levels were now at 77 percent during the year compared to just 51 per cent in 2010.
Griffin attributes the higher volumes and greater customer satisfaction to four factors, starting with the higher traffic capacity of The Blue Puttees and The Highlanders compared to their predecessors.
“They can just carry a lot of traffic,” said Griffin. “If we have any weather issues we can clean it up in no time flat.”
Griffin said 91 per cent on-time performance rates of the two ships, coupled with their 99 per cent reliability record, has also played an important part.
Marine Atlantic also ran some strategic marketing campaigns, offering discounts and gas cards, to entice passengers.
The fourth and most important factor is what employees are doing on the front lines, said Griffin.
“We get lots and lots of positive feedback from our customers, and the vast majority is about that face-to-face, one-on-one interaction that our customers have with our front-line employees, and they stepped up in a big way.”
New customer service upgrades are in the works to continue that trend, along with plans to improve infrastructure.
“We’re making some improvements to our docks,” said Griffin. “We’re improving our fendering systems. We’re putting in place a new mooring system which will make operations safer and more efficient.
“We’ve upgraded the storm sewer at Port aux Basques. We had some issues there in the past, so we cleaned that up.”
Other initiatives for business customers are in the works, and Marine Atlantic will continue to promote provincial tourism, like it did with last year’s popular Explorer campaign.
“That ad really dovetails with some of the research the province did that describes many of the tourists that come here as explorers,” said Griffin. “We did a lot of promotion in our traditional markets, plus in Ontario and Québec, because they are growing markets for us.”
The current drive to push Newfoundland as a tourist destination is simply a win-win for the province’s economy and Marine Atlantic’s sustainability, he said. The past two years of growth is something Griffin would like to see continued.
“The province obviously sees a huge opportunity in the tourism industry and I think that we’re well positioned to not only take advantage of that, but also to assist.”