At a exclusive event to mark Saga’s partnership with Jools Holland and ‘The Club by Jools’, a restaurant and bar on the company’s new-build Spirit of Discovery, it was announced that the ship will be christened in Dover in July 2019, ahead of its sold-out maiden voyage, which also sails from the port in July.
In light of this, Iain Powell, head of trade sales, Saga Holidays & Cruise, spoke at length to Cruise Trade News about how the Discovery and sister ship, Spirit of Adventure – launching in 2020 – will elevate the brand, the build progress, and how relations with the trade are flourishing.
How will the Discovery and Adventure change Saga as a brand?
What we’re building is very different to what we’ve had before. The main thing we’re focusing on is luxury boutique cruising.
This is about appealing to our key market and providing something that the market wants – it’s not about bringing down the average age of a Saga customer. We know our key demographic wants small ships, sailing out of the UK, and a premium product.
Saga Sapphire and Saga Pearl II, which will leave the fleet, are well loved by passengers. Do you think there will be an adjustment period while passengers get used to the new ships?
It’s not about building new ships and discarding the old.
Our customers see Saga as part of their lives, so we hope they view what we’re doing as an evolution of where we are going.
There’s a whole base of new customers who will, hopefully, look at it and say, ‘this is different to the Saga we thought we knew’.
We want to maintain what we have and build on it.
What will surprise guests most on the Discovery?
I think it will be the level of design. The reason we talk about luxury boutique cruising is passengers will find what they expect in a premium boutique hotel. This is a very modern ship in its look and feel.
How’s the build going?
We’re on schedule and on budget. We have no concerns.
It’s my first experience at Meyer Werft and I have to say it is incredibly efficient and very well run.
We’ve had some agents out already and we’re planning on getting more out in Spring next year, as that is when the ship will be going through internal fabrication.
Will the Spirit of Adventure borrow from Discovery in terms of design?
In terms of a ship build, they are very similar, and that goes for the service, too. However, the look and feel will be very different.
We describe them as sister ships but not twins.
Let’s say someone is on Adventure. We want them to know they are on a Saga ship, but we don’t want them to think, ‘that’s the same as Discovery‘.
You’re going all-inclusive on the new ships from 2020 – why?
We believe the price should represent true value, so when guests come onboard they shouldn’t have to pay for a range of extras.
If you want to fit into a premium-to-luxury market, you need to be offering guests everything as all-inclusive.
You’ve mentioned in the past about increasing work with the trade. How is that going?
Very well. Having two new ships helps, as we know we’re building something that appeals.
We’re trading exceptionally well. Agents realise there are customers out there who want what we are building. We are currently about 82 per cent up, year on year, for sales.
It’s an incredibly strong position for us to be in, and we’re trading stronger than we had hoped.
I’ve been quite open in saying cruise is quite a small part of the Saga business as a whole – when I started it was 7 per cent and by the end of year it should be more like 11 per cent.
As time goes on we want that to be more like mid-20s.
When could you reach that figure?
We are talking about over the next five years. All the signs are positive at the moment.