Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Ash cloud as Natural Experiment: Tastes for ferry travel

The perception that travelling between Ireland and mainland Europe by car ferry is like being on a famine ship full of truckers was challenged recently when an ash cloud closed European airports. Many travellers had no alternative than to sail between Ireland and the rest of Europe and apparently many were pleasantly surprised to discover how comfortable the experience was. So, has this random shock changed tastes?

Not much apparently. Here is the volume of searches for "Irish Ferries", the highest capacity operator between Ireland and the rest of Europe. As soon as the airports reopened the volume of searches returns to its baseline levels, which appear to be steady this time of year (see April 2009, below).

For me, the key insight of this result is that it proves that people do not converse as radio advertisements would have us believe: "Is Linda still stranded in Slovenia, Ann?"
"Oh no, Paul, she cruised home with Irish Ferries"
"Irish Ferries?"
"Yes, Irish Ferries! You know Irish Ferries now operate... Where are you going Paul?"
"With so many great Irish Ferries destinations to choose from, Ann, who knows where Irish Ferries might take me?"
If people actually spoke like this, we would see some residual effect in search volumes as Paul and his ilk go check out the great value deals. And so, it turns out that radio ads have been lying to us all along. Please make them stop.


Liam Delaney said...

Interesting post Dave. I got a ferry myself the other day and did indeed find the experience extremely pleasant. However, as you say, given the normal time constraints I would always have to opt for air travel other than in rare cases.

Kevin Denny said...

The Ash cloud may provide a better natural experiment for other questions. After the September 11th attacks in the US, its airpace was closed for a few days. This allowed investigators to see the effect of aviation on air pollution. My guess is that somebody is working on this now with the latest data for Europe.