March 13, 2020 / 7:44 AM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-UK's Saga suspends cruises on virus concerns

(Adds background on other suspensions, details from statement)

March 13 (Reuters) - British over-50s services group Saga said on Friday it was suspending its cruise operations until early May in response to the coronavirus crisis, at an estimated cost to company earnings of about 10-15 million pounds.

The move follows similar announcements from U.S.-based peer Princess Cruises, the operator of two ocean liners that were quarantined after they became hotbeds for infections, and Finland’s Viking Line.

The travel industry is grappling with mass cancellations since the outbreak, which has upended normal life in dozens of countries and led to the cancellation of thousands of flights, holidays and business trips.

Saga said its decision followed UK government advice that people over the age of 70 and those with pre-existing health conditions steer clear of cruise ship travel.

It said its customer services teams would be in contact with all customers who were due to travel in the next six weeks to refunds or future credit.

“The health and safety of customers and colleagues is our number one priority,” the company said. “We have, therefore, made the decision to temporarily suspend operations of our Cruises until 1 May 2020.”

The company, which operates ocean and river cruises, said it would seek additional cost savings and cut discretionary spending to offset the impact of the suspension.

Saga had warned earlier this month that it was seeing a higher level of near-term cancellations for its cruises and tours due to the epidemic.

However, it added that its insurance business was not expected to be significantly impacted by the virus and has had a good start to the current financial year.

$1 = 0.7954 pounds Reporting by Muvija M in Bengaluru; editing by Patrick Graham

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