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Drop in Isle of Wight ferry passenger numbers during Covid-19

By Kani Talabani
14 January 2022

Isle of Wight ferry company Wightlink saw a sharp drop in the number of passengers using their ferries in the financial year ending in March 2021. 

On a normal year, Wightlink would carry more than 4.6 million passengers per year, making 100 sailings in a single day; crossing from Portsmouth to Fishbourne and Lymington to Yarmouth. In the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, during the third financial quarter of 2021, that number drastically fell to 1.91 million passengers. 

The Wightlink website’s ‘Coronavirus Update’ page updated in December 2021 assures customers that they have implemented the latest safety measures recommended by the government to keep them safe on their journey; this include wearing a face covering at all times and socially distancing where possible. 

As a result of the pandemic and decrease in passenger numbers, the company also suffered a loss of £25 million, as the annual turnover went from £68.4 million to £38.4 million. Jason Cogley, Director of Wightlink, said that the directors did all they could to minimise the impact of this loss by utilising the government support schemes but, “Ultimately an operating loss before exceptional items for this period was unavoidable.”

Wightlink’s market share went down to 59.9% after making only 19,429 sailings; a significant decrease from the 61,263 sailings made in the previous year. 

Paul Winter acknowledged that there was a low demand for the company’s services during the height of the pandemic that year, and that their plans to develop the business have been restricted as a result. On the other hand, the rest of the board of directors said they expect demand to return soon. Winter added: “Whilst this has damaged the results for this financial year, it is not expected to continue into the longer term”.

Despite the low numbers that year, Wightlink’s CEO told the Daily Echo in an interview that the company enjoyed a very ‘positive’ year after the easing of travel restrictions; the Isle of Wight turned out to be a popular destination for UK staycationers. The company emerged from the pandemic with one small victory, making a pre-tax profit of £4.09m in 2020-21. 

The Wightlink website is now offering 20% off those booking foot passenger tickets for this year, with 10% off car bookings. The deadline for the offer is said to be set for January 31.