Saga is planning to hold its biggest-ever fam trip programme in 2020 as part of its strategy to increase the proportion of sales made via travel agents.

The over-50s specialist hosted eight fam trips this year, featuring river cruises and short- and long-haul destinations – in addition to hosting 700 agents across two nights as it promoted the launch of Spirit of Discovery.

The operator is also celebrating its fifth anniversary of trade sales, with a ‘five weeks, five prizes’ incentive, offering vouchers and experiences to agents during October.

Iain Powell (pictured), head of trade sales at Saga Holidays and Cruise, said: “Next year will see more fam trips to visit new destinations and different types of holidays to showcase how broad our range is.

“There will be a trade event for the Spirit of Adventure next year and we hope to get a similar number of agents on board.”

He said fewer than 10% of bookings came via the trade at the start of 2018 but that has grown to 15% for holidays and 20% for cruise.

When he joined in early 2018, a five-year target was set for both sectors to reach 25%.

“We are on track for that, and cruising is ahead of schedule,” he said.

“The trade’s share is getting bigger and they’re getting a larger percentage of a larger pot.

“The customer wants to book with travel agents, especially in the over-50s market, and events lately with Thomas Cook have highlighted that people want to book with an agent and get Abta and Atol protection.

“We were also keen to bring new customers to Saga. We have a loyal database but want more new customers.”

Overall there were 26,000 cruise passengers in 2018, while the tour operations carried 176,000.

“Bookings have increased and cruising is growing very quickly,” he said.

“The agents’ response over the past 18 months that I have been here has been incredible.

“The trade is a major, important part of our strategy.

“The spike in sales after the Spirit of Discovery was way beyond what I thought possible.”

The company has a trade team of 10 including six regional sales managers, and offers training to help dispel myths about the over-50s market.

“Our holidays are not what agents might think they are – we have 150 destinations, such as tours in Uzbekistan and Lebanon, and gorilla-trekking in Uganda.

“It is a really diverse range of destinations that you might not think are typically for Saga, it’s more exciting than you might think.

“The cohort aged 60 to 70 is our sweet spot; they don’t want to stay home in their slippers; they want to live life after work and after children.

“Escorted tours are seeing growing numbers of solo travellers, especially women – they are not necessarily divorced or widowed, but sometimes just following a different interest.”

MoreSaga sales chief makes agent promise ahead of Spirit of Discovery launch

Saga appoints new trade sales chief [Nov 2017]

Saga Travel to sell through the trade [Sept 2014]