Saga, the travel and insurance company for the over-50s, has revealed it made a £61m loss before tax last year after the Covid-19 pandemic prevented it from operating its tours and cruises and forced it to refund customers.
The company cut more than a third (36%) of its workforce during 2020, as it moved to slash costs, while it also raised £150m from shareholders in September.
The group is ready to restart its tours and cruises as soon as government restrictions allow and reported that there is significant pent-up demand from customers who want to travel.
In January, Saga became the first UK travel operator to tell cruise and holiday customers that they must be fully vaccinated to travel with them this summer.
Passengers who want to travel on Saga tours or cruises will be required to show a letter from their GP or their vaccination card to show that they have been inoculated against Covid-19, with two doses if required, at least 14 days before departure. They will also need to take a Covid test at the departure terminal.
Saga Group’s chief executive, Euan Sutherland, said the company had received “great support” for its two-vaccination policy for travel customers.
“Customers want to be comforted and cautious, and have extra peace of mind around tours and cruises,” he said.
“We don’t tend to send a lot of customers away in peak months of July and August, our customers tend to avoid those months, so it gives us a longer window and greater margin of error for the pandemic settling down.”
Asked whether it supported vaccination passports, the company said it would wait to see what the government introduced.
Saga reported pent-up demand among its customers for travel later in the year and said its cruises were 78% booked for this season, while its holidays were 83% booked for this year.
Total cruise bookings at Saga for 2021-22 and 2022-23 have reached £154m so far, compared with £128m at the the same point last year, which Saga says is a 20% improvement.
Sutherland said the company was retaining high levels of customers, with a majority of cruise-goers opting to receive vouchers rather than a refund, demonstrating their loyalty to the brand.
“Looking ahead, while we are mindful of economic headwinds and the potential ongoing impacts of Covid 19, it is clear that there is significant pent-up demand among our customer base, the vast majority of whom have now been vaccinated and are ready to enjoy post-lockdown freedom,” Sutherland said.
The group has made significant savings in marketing and administrative costs, which have helped it to reduce the rate it is burning through cash to about £6m a month, from closer to £8m.
More favourable debt repayment terms have been renegotiated for two of its newest cruise ships, including one it received in September 2020, to give it more financial flexibility.