The trade has widely criticised Saga’s “disappointing” decision to “ditch” the trade, calling the move “a bolt out of the blue”.
The over 50s specialist started selling through agents eight years ago, but on Wednesday announced changes to “work with a smaller group of trade partners”.
It is understood the cruise line and escorted tours operator’s decision will come into effect from February 19.
Neil Basnett, co-owner of Stratford-Upon-Avon-based agency Holiday Inspirations, said the move “has come as a bolt out of the blue”.
He said “I did not think this was going to happen because for years and years they were direct sell. We had no indication this was going to happen, and it’s come at a time when trade was just starting to pick up. It’s just disappointing.
“As one of my colleagues said, ‘yes, we shall remember them – not’, that sums it up.”
Basnett added that he would not actively promote Saga over the next four weeks. “I will only sell Saga if customers ask for it,” he said.
Carol Kirkham, of Kirkham Travel, said she was “absolutely gutted” and “stunned” by the decision. She added: “I’ve got existing bookings going this year – not massive numbers but they are big bookings.
“I have customers going away with Saga tomorrow and the booking is worth £12,000.”
Kirkham said it is likely she will lose future bookings because of Saga’s decision. “I’m very sad we’ve lost such a good product, especially when we supported everyone during this awful pandemic,” she said. “They’ve just thrown us out.”
Nick Lee, of Broadland Travel Worldchoice, said he had already switched sold a customer to Titan, which is understood to still be working with agents despite parent Saga’s decision.
“Twelve weeks ago, Saga was talking about how they were going to work with the trade and they sent us some gifts,” he said. “Now they’ve done a complete U-turn. I will not be going out of my way to promote them.”
Lee added that it would take “a long time” for Saga to win back his trust. “The strange thing is we’ve had customers that have come in and they’ve had a nightmare about Saga,” he said. “They’ve spent days trying to get through to Saga. Customers will not wait four, five and six hours to get through – like an agent will do – so it will take them days. Saga’s reputation has taken a dent.”
On Twitter agents reacted with dismay.
A very disappointing decision from Saga today. The industry should be pulling together to support recovery at this point and there has never been a better time to work with agents! @AdvantageHQ
— Kelly Cookes (@KCookes) January 19, 2022
Calling the decision “very disappointing”, Advantage Travel Partnership’s leisure director, Kelly Cookes, tweeted: “The industry should be pulling together to support recovery at this point and there’s never been a better time to work with agents.”
Rather disappointing news about @SagaTradeTeam, especially as we have been helping people who booked direct recently as they didn’t have the support needed to help with the current regulations.
— Ashley Quint (@LuxuryTravelled) January 19, 2022
Suffolk-based agency Deben Travel posted: “Really disappointed with this news. We have always been supportive of Saga introducing new clients to them and making many bookings. We have now lost these and future customers to a direct-sell operator. Such a shame.”
Agent Ashley Quint said the decision was “disappointing” because his colleagues at Travel Time World in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, had recently helped Saga customers who had booked direct.
But Azamara’s former UK boss Richard Twynam defended Saga, tweeting that the operator was “making the decision they need to for their business to survive”.
Travel Weekly has approached Saga for further comment.