We sit down with Saga Cruise’s chief executive Robin Shaw to talk service, stylish new ships and why agents are so important to the future of the business.
With a recent 20th anniversary and construction of a game-changing new ship well under way, it’s probably safe to say that there’s been a fair amount of celebrating in the Saga Cruises camp of late.
Indeed, things have come a long way since original flagship vessel MS Saga Rose sailed on her inaugural cruise to the Mediterranean in May 1997. “We’re very proud of what we have achieved,” confirms Robin Shaw, during our chat at the recent agents’ incentive event held on Saga Sapphire.
Having said that, he also admits the journey has not been without its challenges, which include dealing with older tonnage and a lack of resilience.
Seeing an opportunity to develop its luxury small ship offering, it was clear that investment was the way forward for Saga. “Two years ago we started researching new builds, and signed a contract which is set to take us into a new era,” Shaw continues.
“What’s important to us is future-proofing Saga. We’re continuing with the bespoke approach which our loyal demographic appreciate.”
At the heart of the company’s DNA is service – many customers will happily testify that, when on board either of Saga’s two ships, nothing is too much trouble for the staff.
Serving 25,000 travellers a year and with high repeat rates, the company is still small enough to care about the finer details.
“We aspire to be the best British cruise line with a high level of service, low turnover of staff, continuity for clients and a real family atmosphere.”
Saga’s stylish new ship, Spirit of Discovery, launches in summer 2019 and will be on sale from September 2017. With capacity for 999 passengers, balconies with every cabin and 109 single cabins, it will combine small-ship luxury with a meticulous design focus.
Created by London-based designers SMC Design at German shipyard Meyer Werft, the ‘British contemporary’ interior includes cues taken from boutique hotels and restaurants in London such as Hakkasan and The Wolseley.
“We didn’t want the design to be mediocre – we wanted elements of ‘wow’,” explains Shaw. “Our customer panel was consulted every step of the way, and we had a robust process to ensure that we delivered what they want.”
Shaw is also quick to emphasise that they will never ‘nickel and dime’ customers, despite for example, the chefs being given carte blanche to do what they like with their budgets. “We are sticking to our policy of never charging for speciality restaurants – it will not happen.”
Not content with a major launch on the horizon, there is also an option for a second ship on the cards, which will be decided by the end of the year.
Traditionally focused on direct marketing and sales bookings, Saga switched to selling through agents nearly three years ago, and Shaw openly concedes that the trade is the future.
“Bookings have grown 250% year on year, which is why we now fully embrace and engage with agents. No doubt this is the right thing to do; we’re just wondering why we didn’t do it sooner.”
You can advance register your customers on a waiting list for Spirit of Discovery until the cruises go on general sale in September – for each registration you make, you will receive a £10 shopping voucher. Then, when the customer converts to a full booking, you’ll receive a further £100 voucher per booking. To claim your vouchers, simply email all advance registration details to firstname.lastname@example.org. Applicable to new advance registrations made until 25 September 2017.