Saga has become the first UK tour operator to tell cruise and holiday customers that they must be vaccinated to travel with them this summer.
The over-50s travel firm, which has reported a surge in bookings since the vaccination programme was announced, is taking reservations on condition that customers are fully inoculated, with two shots where necessary, at least 14 days before departure. Passengers will also need to take a Covid test at the departure terminal.
Saga has deferred the start date for its entire holiday programme of hotel stays, escorted tours and cruises until 1 May, with the first sea cruise departing on 4 May, which the company said should be ample time for its customers to receive their jabs.
The firm implemented the rules after polling 2,000 of its customers, with an overwhelming majority in favour of allowing only vaccinated passengers to travel.
A spokesperson said: “The health and safety of our customers has always been our number one priority at Saga, so we have taken the decision to require everyone travelling with us to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
“Our customers want the reassurance of the vaccine and to know others travelling with them will be vaccinated too.”
The rival UK cruise lines P&O and Cunard have not implemented the policy, with the first P&O cruise since the pandemic began scheduled to depart in April, after repeated postponements. A P&O spokesman said only that the new vaccines “were expected be an important boost for cruising … in the days ahead”.
The cruise industry was at the forefront of the pandemic, with mass outbreaks onboard ships before coronavirus restrictions became commonplace in Europe and the US.
One P&O ship, the Ruby Princess, which docked in Sydney with at least 900 customers who later tested positive, became a significant source of cases in Australia.
Saga said the vaccine rule would be in addition to a number of measures to ensure safety on its cruises, including pre-departure testing, reducing the maximum number of passengers, enhanced cleaning, and more medical facilities and staff.
The travel association Abta said it was not yet aware of any other holiday firms planning to follow suit.
The policy comes as the global airline body Iata called on EU governments to create internationally recognised certificates to allow those vaccinated to travel freely.
Iata’s director general, Alexandre de Juniac, told the tourism body UNWTO on Tuesday: “For travel and tourism, testing is the immediate solution to reopen borders. And eventually that will transition to vaccine requirements.”