Saga Travel chief Nick Stace has told the BBC he is "very hopeful" that the Foreign Office advice banning ex-UK international cruises could be lifted as early as next week.
Pressed on his hopes for a resumption of international cruising during an interview with BBC Radio’s Today programme on Thursday (22 July), Stace said there was sufficient evidence underlining the safety of cruising under new Covid protocols to sway the Foreign Office.
"It should happen at the end of July. That’s the timetable," said Stace. "We’re hoping to cruise [internationally] from the beginning of September, which gives us a little bit of flex in case there is a day or two’s delay in that decision. But we are very hopeful that will happen."
Stace, chief executive of Saga Travel, hailed the industry’s efforts to pivot to seacation cruising in UK waters, but said he recognised the seasonal limitations on UK domestic cruising meant it was important to get international sailings going again.
"The British Isles are fantastic, these seacations are amazing, I was on one a couple of weeks ago to the Isles of Scilly. Our country is beautiful, but you’re right, there is a seasonal limit," said Stace.
The line’s second new-build, Spirit of Adventure, was named in Portsmouth on Monday (19 July) ahead of its inaugural sailing this coming Monday (26 July) which will see the ship embark on a 15-night voyage around the British Isles.
"We are very hopeful," Stace continued. "In fact, there was a meeting yesterday [Wednesday] of the task and finish ministerial group, hopefully to make the decision that – actually – we have now a sufficient body of evidence, which is 49,000 passenger journeys since May across the sector.
"Plus, there is a the memorandum of understanding signed with the Foreign Office that should ensure that the Foreign Office can now lift their cruise advisory and that cruising internationally can happen.”
Stace said demand for cruising was outstripping pre-pandemic levels. "Demand is actually much higher than it has been in the past for a couple of reasons really," said Stace. "Firstly, apart from want to see friends and family, I think it’s holidays people have missed most. They’ve saved money and they’ve missed out on making memories and that really happens when you go on holiday.
"The second reason, and what’s really important, is that the public see cruise as safe – and probably safer than any other form of holiday you might want to go on. It doesn’t involve airports, and it means the people you are travelling with have also been double vaccinated.
"One enormous fear for people is that if they travel abroad at the moment and their country goes from amber to red, that’s a significant problem. Of course, if you are on a cruise ship, we can avoid amber and red countries literally at the last moment."
Asked what Saga was doing to prevent Covid outbreaks onboard, Stace said the line had been determined to "create the safest place in the world to see the world". "Back in January, we announced we would make sure all our guests are double vaccinated, [and] that all our crew had the vaccine too, and that was supported by 98% of our customers who said they thought that was the right thing to do," said Stace.
"In addition, we have bubbled excursions, so when you do go ashore, you can’t just wander through market places, you’re part of the bubble you’re with on the ship. We have regular testing on the ship, and in addition to that, we have now just received the Lloyds Shield+ accreditation which is the highest honour we could receive to be the safest possible environment to travel the world."