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Ship interiors – a current view of the market

The market for renovating and refurbishing ship interiors is a buoyant and ever-changing one with new ideas and trends constantly coming into play. Here, Cliff Grainger, co-founder and director of Birkenhead-based MPE Interiors, examines the sector.

Some ship and passenger ferries in operation today are many years old but, while they may be mechanically sound, their interiors can start to look worn after constant use. This means there is a massive market for interior retro fit work on ships and, in particular, passenger ferries.

Comfort is the key and customers have become more discerning, often looking at matters away from just simply ticket prices and seeing which operators can offer the best passenger experience.

The competition between the ferry operators is fierce, particularly for the cross-Channel routes to France which remains the most popular destination for UK passengers, according to the latest ‘Sea Passenger Statistics’ report.

Published by the UK Government in February, it said 15.3 million passengers travelled between the UK and France in 2013 via ferry, representing 75 per cent of all short sea international journeys to and from the UK.

Overall, 20.5 million short sea international ferry journeys took place in 2013, a 4 per cent rise on 2012 which follows two years of decline, pointing towards an improving market and increased interest from passengers.

More passengers travelled via the Channel Tunnel than ferries for the first time in 2012 but this trend was reversed last year, with ferries accounting for 1.7 million more international journeys than the Tunnel.

Fares are being driven down by demand so ferry operators have been forced to come up with new ways to drive revenue and one of these is to make facilities more attractive.

Fares may be cheaper but operators are able to claw back the revenue through other methods such as smart cafés, bars and restaurants, better entertainment in more comfortable surroundings and well lit and enticing retail units.

A tired looking ship is likely to lose out on attracting customers when competing with other operators offering the same price in a nicer environment.

This is where companies such as MPE Interiors can help. A lot of our work is done based on customers’ designs and wishes, we listen to what they want and make suggestions, but we can also design ship interiors from scratch using computer aided design.

Much of our work is done in the passenger ferry sector and over the past year we have completed projects for companies such as Western Ferries, through a sub-contract with Cammell Laird, and Stena Line.

For Stena, we worked on its ‘Mersey, ‘Lagan’ and ‘Adventurer’ vessels on a trio of similar projects.

On the Mersey and Lagan ships, we redeveloped the crews’ and officers’ mess areas on both of the 980-passenger ships.

The ferries, which are housed near MPE’s base on Merseyside and run the Birkenhead to Belfast route, gave the company a great chance to showcase the range of projects we could undertake. MPE drew up a detailed concept design, manufactured the furniture and structures and then installed them and have carried out maintenance since.

The Mersey vessel project required a complete reimaging and reworking of the whole mess area to suit the crews’ needs better. The project, which included laying new floor coverings, was about making the mess areas as comfortable and space efficient as possible.

More recently, we have worked on Stena Adventurer vessel which runs the Holyhead to Dublin route. We carried out refurbishment work at the forward end of passenger decks seven, eight and nine and made the shop more spacious on the 1,500-passenger vessel.

The company has an exclusive lounge area called ‘Stena Plus’, an interesting add on to entice customers in who are looking for that extra level of comfort. The lounge costs a little extra to access but in return customers receive more comfort, privacy and waiter service.

We installed improved seating and reduced the amount of places in the ‘Plus’ lounge, thereby increasing the room per passenger. This trend of giving customers the luxury of that bit extra is becoming very prevalent in the passenger ferry sector.

Improvements in Stena Plus included new lounge seating, tables, dining chairs, deck covering and glazed screens to create quiet areas to improve privacy.

This concept of improved public areas on ferries does not just apply to lounges where customers are paying that bit extra.

On Deck 7 Met Bar seating and dining areas of the Stena Adventurer, MPE created a more spacious arrangement in the lounge and dining areas with new and more comfortable seats, new tables and deck covering. The forward lounge seating was renewed and reconfigured and the servery was upgraded with a new façade and additional equipment.

Not all ferry journeys are short hops across the channel so it is vital operators have welcoming and customer friendly dining areas for longer trips. New finishes to linings and partitions, deck covering and seating can give a sophisticated and classy look without breaking the bank.

In terms of materials used today, vinyl wall coverings are very popular as they save weight and are easily applied, when compared to alternatives such as veneered boards and laminates.

Like all transport companies, ferry operators have obligations to be as green as possible so switching standard light bulbs to LEDs is commonplace and this also reduces heat output which allows the air conditioning systems to work more efficiently.

The field of retrofitting projects on older ships is becoming very popular as operators look to cut costs by renovating their existing fleet. These touches can be the difference between a customer coming back, and crucially recommending an operator to someone, or just jumping ship to a competitor for their next journey.