21 MAR 2018: The world leader in luxury expedition cruising celebrates 30 years come April 1. That’s no April Fools’ joke. Up until now Ponant, the French-owned cruise company known for its high-style voyages sailed to little known remote destinations inaccessible to larger ships. Founder Jean Emmanuel Sauvee, a sea man from the French Merchant Navy had a passion and a dream to create this new style of luxury cruising through a unique concept of sea travel. Enter Ponant, French meaning ‘to the west.’  

Watch the 30 year history video

By 2021 Ponant will sail the seven seas and all seven continents with over 460 global itineraries from seven to 30 nights. Agents with luxury clients can take note.

The Three -Year Plan

Over the next three years, the boutique cruise brand is ramping up its fleet of ultra-luxury vessels executing a Herculean feat forecasted to forge a new path in the cruise industry. The planned roll-out of arguably the world’s most exclusive in-demand ultra luxe small ships will expand Ponant’s inventory to 12 with the addition of seven sleek James Bond-looking yacht-like vessels.

The world’s oldest yacht expedition company aptly boasts the newest hardware in this sector. One company insider declares the small stylish vessels as the next phase in the luxury cruise industry. “Size does matter. And small is better,” says Edie Rodriguez, the company’s Brand Chairman and Corporate Special Advisor who delivered a company presentation last week to travel trade media alongside Ponant’s Canadian representative, Vanessa Lee.

Rodriguez, a cruise veteran with over 30 years of experience in the cruise industry (she was previously CEO at Crystal Cruises and held an executive position with Cunard among other stints), adds the small size permits sails to more intimate ports to see the ‘heart of the destination.’ Stay longer.

A New Segment in Cruising

In addition, she likens the evolution of these yacht-like cruises to where river cruising once was. “I had a colleague come to work with me (in 2001) and I asked him where he came from and he replied river cruising.” At that point she had worked two decades as a cruise executive, and, “as an American, I had never heard about the river cruise industry in Europe,” she says.

Trade media heard the demand for these state-of-the-art vessels is growing. “As the world is getting wealthier, (this segment) tried mass market cruising, river cruising and they want a different genre,” she says referring to the latest Forbes list of the world’s richest - a record 2,208 billionaires worldwide.

World’s First Luxury Ice Breaker Ship

On more bucket lists, cruising through the once unthinkable Northwest Passage to view the true geographic North Pole in high-style is getting closer.

In 2021, Ponant is scheduled to launch the world’s first luxury icebreaker to the North Pole. The clean LNG (liquid nitrogen gas) 135 stateroom ship is the first electric hybrid cruise icebreaker of its kind. The ship will take passengers to never explored polar destinations, such as the Weddell Sea, The Ross Sea and Peter I Island.

Previously the only way to explore the Arctic was via the industrial, bare bones Russian ice breaker. “Now you can do this in true Ponant luxury style sipping a glass of Veuve Clicquot,” she says.

EXPLORER Ships

The other six new Ponant vessels are the Ferrari of the Seas. “They are the sexiest ships on the seas,” Rodriguez says about the upcoming debuts of Le Laperouse and Le Champlain in 2018 followed by Le Bougainville and Le Dumon d’Urville in 2019; and in 2020, expect the launch of the new yacht-like ships, Le Bellot and Le Surville.

The 92-stateroom Ponant EXPLORERS will comply with the international CLEANSHIP label (Bureau Veritas) and will have posh spacious interiors, each with private balconies, styled in understated elegant yacht-like décor in a country club ambiance.

The big selling feature: the world’s first multi-sensory underwater lounge called, “Blue Eye.” Guests can enjoy round the clock sea life viewing through the pair of eye-shaped porthole windows. The lounge will have an interactive experience using state-of-the-art technology to channel in marine life sonar sounds up to 5 km away as well as body listening sofas which vibrate.

“It’s a great meet and greet, so much better than going down in a submarine,” says Rodriguez. 

EXPLORERS on board experience

- Guests can enjoy a full open bar and gratuities are included.

- Suites have butler service and all staterooms and suites have 24/7 room service.

- Ponant has partnered with other French legacy luxury brands such as Veuve Clicquot, Sothys, the crème de la crème of French spas, and for the food and beverage scene, the company has snagged world renowned chef Alain Ducasse to collaborate on curating the menu and staff training.

Bookings

Ponant has partnered with such luxury travel companies as Abercrombie & Kent, Backroads and for 30 years with Tauck but Rodriguez notes, “These luxury brands chose to travel with Ponant in the luxury travel space.”

While the highest yield sold by the luxury cruise company is over 90 percent occupancy, Ponant wants to increase its North American bookings with the new builds coming online as it targets the Canadian cruise market.

Rodriguez recognizes the value and importance of travel agents and partners in the bookings process. “Trade is very important to us,” she says and adds Ponant would be delighted if 100 percent of its bookings came through agents and partners.

Vanessa Lee, president and CEO of Cruise Strategies Ltd., pointed out agents affiliated with the various luxury travel networks such as Virtuoso among others have preferred commissions, and the company is prepared to work with agents on bookings.

For agents who have first-time Ponant guests, clients receive a US$250 on board credit for on-board shopping or spa treatments.

Currently the company reports the guest demographics are 70 percent international mostly from Europe and Australia while 30 percent of the bookings are from North America. “We want to be plus 50 percent North American as we continue to grow,” concluded Rodriguez.

Who owns Ponant?

The Pinault family from France has the luxury market cornered. They are also the owners of Groupe Artemis and Kering with fashion houses like Gucci, St. Laurent, Stella McCartney and Bottega Veneta while Artemis has brands like Christie’s arts auction house. (Francois Pinault and family rank as the 30th wealthiest billionaires according to Forbes). His son French billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault, who is the chairman of Artemis and CEO of Kering, is married to actress/director Salma Hayek.

 

 

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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