Founding entrepreneur, Sidney De Haan, expanded from a small hotel in Folkestone to a specialist holiday company selling hotels and tours around the globe to retired holidaymakers. Sidney's son, Roger De Haan, took the vision to the next step, creating a complete lifestyle brand for the over 50s with a portfolio that includes insurance and publishing as well as travel.
True to its history as a company constantly reinventing itself, Saga recently placed an order for two new boutique ships purpose built for the UK market, each carrying just under 1,000 guests and operating intriguing destination-focused no fly itineraries departing from the UK. The first of these, Spirit of Discovery, was launched to great fanfare in 2019, whilst the second, Spirit of Adventure, arrived in a far more low key style in late 2020.
Saga is now poised to take the market by storm, ready and waiting to resume sailing as soon as it is safe. I caught up with their Head of Trade Sales Iain Powell to find out more.
The company has caused a stir in recent weeks with its announcement that all passengers will need to show proof of a Covid-19 vaccination prior to boarding. In view of Saga's passenger age profile, and the speed of the vaccine programme, this seems reasonable, although it caused something of an outcry on social media. The company is showing great flexibility with the option to cancel and rebook trips if your appointment has not come through yet, and Iain advises it has been very well received by the public, with a boost in bookings which were already looking strong.
With a 'belt and braces' approach, the vaccine requirement is not the only action Saga is taking to protect their customers. They were the first cruise line to get the Lloyds Register Shield + accreditation for coronavirus risk management - the highest category of health assurance granted by the classification society. The compliance requirements are stringent, but only, according to Iain, a small step up from their normal high safety standards.
Saga's idea is to 'bubble' their cruisers from the moment they leave home, with a test before departure, private car from home to the terminal, a second test at the terminal, the mandatory vaccine we have mentioned, 100% fresh air on board, ionisation technology, double medical teams, washing stations, and of course an excellent space-to-passenger ratio further enhanced by a cap on numbers to just 800 in the initial months. There is an isolation zone to be used in event of an outbreak with testing units on board.
The company is confident they have planned for every eventuality, but don't know yet which way this will take them. Everything depends, of course, on the progress of controlling the virus in the UK, which looks promising, and the government lifting its 'no sail' advisory. Itineraries may also need to be tweaked and adapted to take account of regulations and restrictions in other countries. But all in all it is looking good, and Saga is currently confident about their planned resumption of services this summer.
The range of itineraries is appealing, and we are particularly attracted by the longer Mediterranean itineraries (around 30 days), the Caribbean cruise at Christmas, and of course the long South America trip scheduled for next January - the perfect opportunity to get working on that list of places you have to visit!