For readers who are unfamiliar with the name Saga Holidays, it is a British based tour operator with nearly seven decades of experience, specializing in offering over 50 year-old customers or travellers holidays and cruises worldwide. On 21st January the company announced that all clients must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 at least 14 days before departure on all holidays, tours and cruises, which entails having both a first and secondary jab. The decision was made after conducting a customer poll in which a reported ’95 per cent of regular Saga customers would support such a policy change’.
At first, many may consider this decision quite radical. In reality when they resume both long haul holidays and cruises in May, it is expected that the vast majority of Brits in this age group will have been inoculated against coronavirus anyway. Under the British Government’s plan, 15 million people designated as the fourth highest priority risk vaccination group, including all those in the UK over the age of 70 will have received at least their first shot by the middle of February.
Interestingly, Saga stated that their cruise crew would not need to be vaccinated before working on board and ‘that other protocols would be in place to protect staff until they’re able to receive inoculation’.
Saga Holiday offerings currently features Barbados as one of the three island destinations in their 14 night fly-holiday ‘Jewels of the Caribbean’ programme, which includes a 4 night stay at the Sugar Cane Club with a starting cost of GB Pounds 3,499 per person.
Purely, from a cruise perspective, while some will consider the return of these giant floating self-contained ‘hotels’ another threat to our land based tourism product, could our tourism planners and policymakers use this innovative Saga initiative and vaccination requirement to lure more ships back to our shores this winter? One thing for sure, we will need all the help we can get to restore both volume and connectivity of airlift to anything like previous levels. Home porting of at least one Saga ship would greatly assist that.
Their existing two ocean going ships may already be committed to 2021/22 itineraries, but in these challenging days with widespread scrapping or sale of relatively ‘new’ ships, just maybe there is an opportunity to launch a third vessel dedicated solely to ply the Caribbean for the upcoming winter. Many of our land based visitors have been happy to fly to and from Barbados on 20 plus year old aircraft, so ships of a similar age still have plenty of untapped potential, especially towards targeted consumers.
Despite all the obvious challenges the entire tourism industry currently faces, it will become abundantly clear over the next year that there are still people out there with vision, drive and the ability to see a much bigger picture and will use this time to exploit those opportunities that clearly still exist.