New discoveries on the horizon for Saga Cruises

Anthony Pearce talks to Saga Cruises’ chief executive Robin Shaw about the joys of designing Spirit of Discovery from scratch

New discoveries on the horizon for Saga Cruises
Saga has implemented features to improve the customer experience

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2017 issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

“We want people to say, ‘Wow, I wouldn’t have expected that from Saga – but I like it,’” says Robin Shaw, chief executive of Saga Cruises, of the line’s first ever purpose-built ship. Arriving in summer 2019, the 999-guest, all-balcony Spirit of Discovery will offer a different proposition to that of Saga Pearl II and Saga Sapphire, both of which were built in 1981. It’s fair to say the digital renderings of the ship released so far have surprised a lot of people. Saga is well regarded for its personable service, which includes door-to-door pick-up, but not necessarily its luxurious ships. Now, says Shaw, the hardware can match the onboard experience.

Clearly relishing this ‘blank canvas’, Shaw says the company carried out more customer research than ever before, allowing it to create something in its guests’ image. Given the product that is emerging, it’s interesting to hear Shaw say that the plan was “not to transform our current cruise proposition.” In fact, the decision was originally made – back at the start of 2015 – for economic reasons, after the “company identified a series of long-standing issues with operating old tonnage, that includes working with new environmental regulation.” Shaw says that he’s “extremely proud of the vessels” they currently operate but admits that, although “we never comprise on the service, in terms of the hardware, compromises have had to be made.”

“We’re now looking at the cruise proposition more holistically, to dramatically improve that, while keeping the Saga approach, with that personal touch,” he says. “One of our guiding principles was to look at hotel design in contemporary London hotels. That’s where we got a lot of our inspiration. Some of the spaces are quite traditional, but some push the boundaries a little bit.”

That said, during research, customers consistently told Saga that functionality is more important than the ship’s appearance.

“We want it to be a fabulous looking ship, that delivers aesthetically and in terms of ambiance, but also be one of the best designed ships in terms of how we’ve thought about the spaces, how we’ve thought what needs to be where,” he says.

Shaw tells us that, internally, Saga has talked about “100 very small design features” that will significantly improve the customer experience. “It’s everything from the height of chairs to the location and brightness of lights,” he says. “Individually these items aren’t a big wow, but all put together it becomes quite powerful.”

The ship, as Shaw notes, not only offers something different for existing Saga customers, but other over 50s who want to sail from the UK. “Ultimately, you’ve got new large ships or old small ships,” he says. “There was no one producing new tonnage in what I would call the small-ship luxury market dedicated to UK customers. There are cruise lines who are dipping in and out with the odd sailing, but we think we are going to be offering something that’s a real alternative in the UK market.”

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Thursday, February 22, 2018