CHANNEL Tunnel train firm Eurostar’s passenger numbers rose this summer as more UK holidaymakers escaped to the Continent on cheap getaways.
The firm said passenger volumes of 2.6 million between July and September were 8% ahead of 2008 - although a tunnel fire last year also depressed trading.
Despite the strength of the euro against the pound, the 11% growth in outbound passengers outstripped a 7% increase in travellers inbound from Europe.
Eurostar said UK travellers were taking advantage of its £59 return deal as growing numbers of leisure travellers offset much tougher business markets.
Eurostar, which celebrates its 15th anniversary next month, has carried 100 million passengers since it began trading in 1994. It runs up to 19 services a day to Paris and up to 10 trains to Brussels.
While Eurostar’s overall passenger volumes for the nine months of the year so far are 0.9% down at 6.9 million, the firm added that revenues were almost 7% ahead of the previous year in the third quarter.
Eurostar acclaimed the success of its "Little Break, Big Difference" campaign for the upturn in leisure travel as well as signs of life in the business market.
Chief executive Richard Brown said: "In recent weeks a number of our major corporate clients have eased their business travel restrictions. Although it is early days, this may be a sign of an upturn."
From 2010 Eurostar loses its exclusive right to run passenger services through the tunnel, opening up the firm to competition from rival operators.
The company is owned by a joint venture of the UK’s London & Continental Railways, France’s SNCF and Belgium’s SNCB.
It is the biggest customer of Eurotunnel, which operates the Channel Tunnel and runs vehicle shuttle services.