Opening shots fired in the ferry wars

AFTER many years of summer package holiday price wars, the annual round of discounting is being introduced for the first time this year to the cross-channel ferry business.

At the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) convention in Palma this week, P&O European Ferries condemned Stena Sealink for extending the availability of its pounds 1 fare offers. These newspaper deals have traditionally been available during only the first three months of the year, but with summer bookings below expectations for all ferry companies - estimates of the dowturn vary from 20 to 40 per cent - fresh marketing efforts are required.

Brittany Ferries has weighed in with its price comparison chart, claiming that Western Channel crossings from Plymouth and Portsmouth are cheaper than short sea sailings from Dover; this claim has been criticised by Stena and P&O as 'selective'. P&O European Ferries has not yet formally entered the fray, but it will almost certainly have to follow Stena Sealink with a series of special promotional deals to stimulate bookings.

After the inauguration of its new Portsmouth-Bilbao ferry service this week, the P&O European Ferries' marketing director, Brian Langford, said the company might seek to expand in the Mediterranean. 'The ferry company Transmediterranea is up for sale, and the Italians are looking to privatise their ferry business. There are plenty of opportunities for growth,' he said.

The company is also considering whether to enter the car ferry business in the Far East, although it has ruled out a Portsmouth- Hong Kong service.

Eurotunnel, soon to begin its pre-opening marketing campaign, has been a big player at the Abta convention. Although the tunnel opening has again been postponed - the most likely starting date for the car-carrying shuttle services is now next Easter - the company has said that it will begin selling car and passenger tickets from October. Le Shuttle, the brand name for the car and passenger service, says that the theme of its advertising campaign will be a 'Smoother ride all round'.

French holiday specialists are continuing to engage in heavy discounting. This week Allez France (0903 742345) said it was cutting prices by pounds 125 on its self-catering holidays to the west coast of France; holidays must be booked before 31 May. La France des Villages (0449 737664) has also decided to reduce its 1993 prices to pre-1992 levels.

Green thoughts from Majorca

MAJORCA has used the Abta convention to promote its new greener attitude towards tourism. The Balearic government is committed to spending pounds 111m on environmental improvements, such as creating traffic-free zones in holiday resorts and lining promenades with palm trees.

One of the most interesting green tourist innovations is a 'Countryside Stays' brochure which lists farmhouses and other old country buildings that have been converted to small up-market hotels offering accommodation from about pounds 40 per person per night. Further information from Consorci per la Dinamitzacio Economica Al Medi Rural, Foners, 1-5E, 07006 Palma de Mallorca (010 34 71 46 38 62).

Welcome from the top destination

THE reason why Palma is so happy to welcome the Abta convention every 10 years is that Majorca continues to be the most popular destination for the British package holidaymaker.

According to Lunn Poly figures, the island now has a 12 per cent share of the UK summer market, compared with 11 per cent last year. In second place is Florida (8 per cent); joint third are Cyprus and Turkey (6 per cent), fifth is Tenerife (5 per cent); joint sixth are the Algarve, Ibiza, Corfu and Minorca (4 per cent); and tenth is Crete (3 per cent).

This year's star performer so far is Turkey, which has doubled its share. But Cyprus has fallen dramatically: last year it had a share of 12 per cent.

In the long-haul market, Lunn Poly says Florida is the clear leader with a stunning 52 per cent market share. The also-rans are: California and Canada 7 per cent; Jamaica 5 per cent; Barbados 4 per cent; St Lucia and the Far East 3 per cent; Australia, New York and East Africa 2 per cent; and 'other countries' 13 per cent.

Last-minute flights

Airline Ticket Network (0800 727747): Until 31 May, Gatwick to Los Angeles (with Air New Zealand) pounds 274.

Jetsave (0342 312033): 7 May, Gatwick or Manchester to Orlando, 7/14 nights, pounds 199; 8 May, Glasgow to Orlando, 7/14 nights, pounds 199; 9 May, Gatwick to Orlando, 7/14 nights, pounds 199; 14 May, Gatwick or Manchester to Orlando, 7/14 nights, pounds 199. All prices include seven nights' car hire.

Unijet (0444 458181): 3 May, Gatwick to Faro, 7/14 nights, pounds 109; 3 May, Birmingham to Corfu, 7/14 nights, pounds 129; 5 May, Manchester to Fuerteventura, 7/14 nights, pounds 149; 5 May, Stansted or Manchester to Rhodes, 7/14 nights, pounds 139.

USAirtours (081-550 8866): Until 31 May, Gatwick to Boston (minimum stay one Saturday night, maximum stay, 21 days) pounds 235 (child return pounds 145).

Late packages

Caribbean Gold (081-741 8491): 4 May, Gatwick to Antigua, 14 nights all-inclusive at Sandals, pounds 1,850 including all meals, 'unlimited cocktails' and water sports; 4 May, Heathrow to Grenada, 14 nights' half-board at the Calabash Hotel, pounds 1,399.

Kuoni (0306 740500): 6 June, Gatwick to the Maldives, 14 nights' half-board on the island of Kuredu, pounds 649 (child reduction 50 per cent).

Travel Club of Upminster (0708 225000): 15 May, Gatwick or Stansted to Palma, seven nights' self-catering at the Bressol apartments in Puerto Pollensa, pounds 288 per person (priced based on three adults sharing a two-bedroom apartment).

Something Special (0992 552231): 6 May, Gatwick to Faro, seven nights' self-catering in two-, three- or four- bedroom villas, from pounds 199 (four sharing) including car hire.

Twickers World (081-892 7606): 9 May, Gatwick to Eilat, seven nights room only at the Aquasport Hostel, pounds 259; 9 May, Gatwick to Eilat, seven nights' bed and breakfast at the Taba Hilton, pounds 329.