From focusing government minds during an onboard "summit", to setting the course for Covid vaccination policies, Saga Cruises chief executive Nigel Blanks tells TTG about the line’s innovations and why cruise can be such an agile sector.
The importance of winning over the new-to-cruise market in securing the industry’s future is no secret to those familiar with the sector.
Last July Saga volunteered its ship, Spirit of Discovery, to host a crucial summit, bringing together first-time cruisers of a different kind – Department for Transport, Foreign Office and Public Health England representatives – to meet with cruise leaders.
“You’d be surprised how many people who attended had never been on a cruise ship,” recalls Saga Cruises chief executive Nigel Blanks. “That was a bit of an eye-opener for me because those people [in government] look after the industry, but they’d never been onboard before.”
Using its new flagship, Saga was able to “wow” the governmental delegation with its onboard experience and – most importantly – the line and the industry’s strict stance on safety.
Blanks believes the gathering was “the catalyst” for helping build trust and confidence, and played its part in this month’s long-awaited resumption of domestic sailings.
“It helped focus their minds and got the wheels in motion,” he explains proudly. “It’s really important the industry is properly understood… I think we’ve turned the tide [within government].”
CHARTING A COURSE
Saga’s approach to the restart of ocean cruising has arguably led the industry in recent months.
In January, its new requirement for passengers to be fully vaccinated became an almost universal approach.
“Nobody [in government] asked for it, we volunteered because we felt it was the right way to protect guests and the crew,” says Blanks, describing how 98% of Saga guests surveyed “resoundingly wanted us to do it”.
A previous accolade – becoming the first in the industry to achieve a Shield+ accreditation from maritime safety expert Lloyd’s Register – had strengthened the line’s Covid-secure credentials.
As Blanks puts it with a modest grin: “Little old Saga has been leading the way.”
“I think we’ve proven to people that we can create a super-safe environment and the protocols we have in place have helped us to do that – we’re in a strong place.”
This approach bodes well for the line’s return to service later this summer, with Saga set for a series of round-UK itineraries starting in June, all of which have now sold out.
Among its voyages is the maiden sailing of Spirit of Adventure. With its arrival delayed by Covid (Saga actually took delivery of the vessel last September), Blanks is clearly filled with excitement at the prospect of “a second chance” to launch.
Two naming plans are currently on the table – a virtual ceremony and “more of a real, hybrid event” – as the line waits for rules and restrictions for the summer to become clearer.