Interview: Iain Powell, head of trade sales, Saga

SHP_Spirit_Of_Adventure

Sam Ballard talks to the man who has been brought in from Carnival to change perceptions


Few people realise the true size and scale of Saga Holidays. From once-in-a-lifetime tours on the Trans-Siberian Railway to river cruises meandering through the valleys and dense forests of Europe. It is a company that has been built on one central premise: that you must be older than 50 years old to go. However, from that one fact (which isn’t quite true: you can actually be in your 40s as long as you are travelling with someone over 50) a number of myths have emerged and the company’s offering somewhat lost along the way. A Saga holiday is a far more luxurious affair than many would otherwise realise.

Within the ocean cruise sector the company surprised many by announcing additions to its fleet with two ships – Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of Adventure. The real kicker, however, was that the two new ships will both be newbuilds.

“There are many misconceptions about Saga,” explains Iain Powell, the new head of trade sales for Saga Holidays. “People think that, although we’re holidays for the over 50s, it’s holidays for the significantly older than that. That’s not the case. A lot of the time the demographics selling the product aren’t the demographic who purchase our product and that can be tough.

We’ve got to explain to people selling it why they should be selling it, what’s the customer type, what’s the product like – and they won’t always naturally relate to it. There’s a big education piece there.”

Powell, who joined Saga from Carnival UK, is charged with looking after the company’s burgeoning trade sales team. Given that the Saga only started selling through the trade in the last few years, the numbers are not stratospheric (roughly nine to ten per cent for holidays and six to seven per cent for cruise) but he has already began implementing changes that will see that number increase.

For starters, the field sales team – which is currently made up of two cruise members and five for holidays – will be combined to create one Saga Holidays team. This will stop divided regional coverage and increase the amount of reps for Saga Cruise – massive given the new tonnage that will be coming on to the market with Spirit of Discovery in 2019 and the Spirit of Adventure in 2020.

“We need to be as easy to do business with as possible,” he explains.

“The brief and the five year plan is to try to take the share of trade sales to a more significant number – low 20 per cent is the goal – while also growing the overall business as a whole. Our targets within trade are pretty significant.”

A big part of Powell’s challenge is going to be taking the messaging back to basics and really getting across the company’s unique selling points – particularly the level of inclusions on the cruise side of the business. From chauffeur driven door-to-door transfers to included health insurance – both of which are a massive benefit for older travellers who want their holiday to be stress free as possible and may have found the cost of insurance prohibitive in the past. On board, the new ships will be full board with drinks included at dinner. Saga Sapphire is currently offering all-inclusive cruises for 2018 as the line continues to drum up interest in its ocean product.

As excitement begins to ramp up for the first ship launch next year, Powell is keen to harness that with agency partners.

“We’re looking at yard visits as we get into the summer and start building. We’ll be running competitions and incentives out there and already have a good ship visit programme whenever the ships are in Dover or Southampton. Saga is also really great at offering up the ship for the night in terms of fam trips – getting agents on board. They’re far more flexible than I’ve seen elsewhere.”

In terms of incentives, the strategy is going to be more about getting agents tied into experiences that resonate with the brand. That might be a VIP experience that includes a chauffeur driven service, or an evening that celebrates their culinary offering – although Powell is keen to stress that the monetary value of incentives won’t change.

The April and May incentive Powell has devised let’s agents win a luxury day at either Aintree or Newmarket races, with evening entertainment provided by Craig David or Paloma Faith.

However, if incentives are all in place and Saga’s trade engagement is going to be stepped up to the next level, would the company ever consider appointing an agent as godmother?

“It’s a good question and I don’t know the answer in all honesty! Would I like to? Yes. There are also lots of other cool ways to engage with agents over the launch, too though – suites could be named after agents, for instance. You can do bars, places on board. There can be competitions to name them.

“The new ships and the new hardware is going to make us significantly more modern,” Powell adds. “It’s boutique, stylish cruising with a five-star feel. As a total standard we’ve raised the bar.”

Sam Ballard

Sam Ballard is the publisher of CRUISE ADVISER and has been writing about the cruise industry for a number of years. His CV includes the likes of shipping magazine International Cruise & Ferry Review and the digital publication Cruise News. He can be contacted on:sam@cruise-adviser.com.

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