Saga cruise ships set to deploy 'contingency plans' if easing of Covid restrictions are delayed

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Over-50s travel and insurance giant Saga says it has "contingency plans" in place if Covid restrictions prevents it from relaunching its cruise ship business this summer.

The company, which has its headquarters in Folkestone, is holding its AGM today - just hours before Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to say the final easing of restrictions will be delayed for a further four weeks due to a rise in the number of cases of the Delta variant - a Covid mutation first identified in India.

Saga's travel business has been in limbo since the pandemic arrived in 2020
Saga's travel business has been in limbo since the pandemic arrived in 2020

Having suspended all its cruise ship holidays since March 2020 when the pandemic first hit, it had identified June 27 as the date for a resumption of services.

It is hoping the inaugural cruise of its new Spirit of Adventure ship would take place on July 26, taking in a route around the UK. European sailings are scheduled to resume in mid-August.

But it says contingency plans are in place to manage "any potential impacts" of a delay in the UK rules.

These include plans to operate for a short period with fewer guests.

The firm says despite the challenges it has faced, bookings for its UK cruises stood at 77% for 2021/22 - ahead of its expectations - and 48% for 2022/23.

Ahead of the restart of its travel business, it says customer retention in its tours sector remains stable at 42% - and 73% for its cruises. Bookings are also strong with 60% of the revenue target booked for 2021/22 and 27% for 2022/23, with the latter ahead of pre-pandemic levels.

It added the company's monthy cash burn for the four months to the end of May 31, was at the lower end of its previous guidance of £7-9million per month.

Saga, founded by Sidney De Haan in 1951 in Folkestone, saw the return of its founder's son, Sir Roger De Haan, last year when he invested £100m into the company he had sold for £1.4bn in 2004 - a move which saw him and his brother become two of the UK's richest men - and he take up the role of chairman.

Euan Sutherland, the group chief executive, said: "Saga has made further strong progress, delivering against all the pillars of our turnaround plan.

"In insurance we have continued to support customers and delivered another resilient performance. In travel we are clearly focused on the safe return to service and ensuring we can satisfy the significant pent-up demand from customers.

Euan Sutherland is CEO of Saga
Euan Sutherland is CEO of Saga

"Our focus on enhancing our financial position, while driving simplicity and efficiency across the business remains and we are well progressed with our plans for a brand relaunch and to transform our data and digital approach.

"Saga is a strong brand with loyal customers and great people, and we will continue to innovate, driving change in our markets and strengthening our customer relationships.

"Looking ahead, while we are mindful of continued uncertainties around Covid-19 and the outlook for the consumer economy, we are confident we have the right strategy and people in place to return Saga to sustainable growth."

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