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Saga future travel bookings return to pre-pandemic levels

Bookings for Saga cruises for 2022 are now ahead of pre-pandemic levels, the company disclosed today.

While the over-50s group’s tour operations bookings for 2022-23 are also above pre-Covid levels, the company cautioned that “there remains some uncertainty within the travel industry surrounding the longer-term impact of Covid-19”.

The company has achieved tour operation bookings for 2021-22 of £18 million and £109 million for 2022-23.

The group revealed an underlying £51.2 million pre-tax loss from its travel businesses in the six months to July 31 against a deficient of £34.2 million in the same period in 2020.

Losses from the cruise division hit £35.4 million and £15.8 million from tour operations in the half year.

The total Saga Group pre-tax profit came in at £700,000 against a loss of £55.5 million in the first half of last year.

A monthly cash burn rate of £5.9 million was reported for the travel division, below guidance of £7 million-£9 million, with overall cruise cash flow described as “positive”.

Saga reported booked cruise load factors at 70% for 2021-22, following government capacity restrictions on early cruises, and 59% for 2022-23 departures.

The company restarted cruises around the UK from June with international sailings starting at the end of August.

The delayed Spirit of Adventure naming ceremony was held in July with its inaugural cruise on July 26.

The company is engaging marine architects and other experts to assess emerging fuel and battery technology “to identify opportunities to further reduce the carbon emissions from our ocean and river cruise ships”.

New river vessel Spirit of the Danube, due to be delivered in March 2022, is being designed to even better efficiency and pollution standards.

Group chief executive Euan Sutherland said: “We have successfully recommenced our travel operations, including the launch of our newest ship, Spirit of Adventure. I am delighted with the positive feedback received so far and encouraged by the strong pipeline of future bookings.

“Following the successful restart of operations in our travel business, we continue to work towards a full return to service, while remaining mindful of future potential volatility relating to Covid-19.

“As we have demonstrated through the last 18 months, we will continue to take an agile, proactive approach to navigate any challenges.”

He revealed plans to relaunch the Saga brand “in the coming months”.

Saga chairman Sir Roger De Haan, who returned to the business last year, said: “Unfortunately, we had to wait until the end of June before we were able to begin our cruise operations and, even then, were subject to a restricted capacity on our early sailings and we invested in special measures to maintain a safe environment for our passengers and crew.

“Both our cruise ships are now sailing with fewer restrictions and are achieving satisfactory levels of occupancy. Guests are giving us exceptionally positive feedback.

“We have begun a phased resumption of our tour operations. However, Covid-19 is still affecting them and we expect to take far fewer customers on holiday than we would normally in the second half of our financial year.

“We are encouraged by the fact that confidence is returning in overseas travel for next year and that the government is continuing to relax the Covid-19 rules relating to travel and have therefore now increased our marketing activity.

“In July 2021, we successfully issued a new £250 million bond, set to mature in 2026. The proceeds have been used to repay debt, buy back a proportion of our existing bond and significantly improve our cash position. This places us in good stead for the future.”

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