Saga Cruises is on course to increase its sales through travel agents from 7% to 11% this year, the line’s head of trade sales has forecast.

Iain Powell said the over-50s specialist, which started selling through agents in 2014, had made several changes to boost third party distribution which he hopes will account for 22% of sales in five years.

Since Powell joined Saga in January, four people have been added to the on-the-road cruise-dedicated sales team, upping numbers to six.

He said changes in account management and creating trade incentives were among the reasons for the rise in third-party sales.

Speaking at a keel-laying ceremony for its Spirit of Discovery ship in Papenburg, Germany, on Thursday, Powell said: “Our ambition is to get trade sales up to 11% for this year. We are on target. When I started trade [sales] made up about 7% of our business for cruise, so it was a really small part.”

“The five-year plan is to get that to more than 22%, but it is all about hitting our targets.”

Powell said that growing trade distribution was the sole reason for him joining Saga, but added that it was “not going to happen overnight”.

The 999-passenger capacity Spirit of Discovery ship, due to launch in June 2019, is around 55% sold for its maiden season, he said.

Lance Batchelor, Saga’s group chief executive, told attendees at Meyer Werft shipyard Spirit of Discovery would transform the business.

Powell said: “Building our first new build is huge. I have been here since January and I have been overwhelmed by this.

“Transformational is probably the right word. For them to build a new ship that is boutique and for the luxury UK market is massive.”

Powell said he could see no reason why a third ocean vessel would not be built – if Saga successfully delivers Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of Adventure, due in 2020.

“It is a natural assumption that we would build another new ship,” Powell added. “We would love to build a third because it shows that we have delivered on the first two [ships].”