Product Thursdays: PONANT
In the fifth instalment of Product Thursdays, Richard invited Craig Farrell of PONANT to take us on a journey through the world of expedition cruising. In this session, Craig took us through PONANT’s offerings, and discussed his thoughts on the impacts of COVID-19, and the subsequent future of cruising. Craig also discussed some of the biggest opportunities for agents to rebound using expedition cruising.
With a career in travel spanning 23 years, Craig has worked in a variety of roles including sales, wholesale, training, and corporate, and has even owned his own agency and worked in local government during this time. During the cruising boom, Craig decided to work at Silver Sea for a few years, before finally making the jump to PONANT, where has been for the last 3 and a half years. For Craig, this decision was an easy one because his passion and expertise aligned with PONANT’s own for expedition cruising. PONANT’s unique blend of adventure and luxury, as well as a commitment to environmental protection were also big drawcards for Craig.
PONANT and COVID-19
While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire travel industry, the cruising sector has found itself with a particularly bad reputation, following news coverage of certain less-than-ideal situations involving the virus. That being said, PONANT itself has a clear record of zero infections on board any of its vessels. Regardless, temporary travel bans have resulted in PONANT being just as affected as any other tourism business, spending their days in the wake of the outbreak organising ways to get their passengers home safely around the world. During the subsequent downtime, Craig and the rest of the PONANT team spent their time with agents and clients promoting their product and upcoming expeditions via zoom calls, a practice that will likely continue well beyond the pandemic. The team also used this time to implement the CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) training hub, to assist agents to learn about PONANT’s product.
PONANT, a French company, has been operating in the global travel sector for approximately 30 years, yet is still not particularly well known by the average consumer. Beginning with a single 3-masted yacht in 1991, PONANT now boasts a total of 11 luxury small ships around the world, using these vessels to take passengers to places that big ships traditionally couldn’t. This includes destinations like the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and the Kimberley, as well as PONANT’s most popular offerings, Antarctica and the Arctic. Despite being a relatively small population, the Australian market has become one of PONANT’s most important, now accounting for 30% of total travel, particularly with the introduction of the Kimberley itineraries. One key selling point of PONANT’s expedition cruises, is the inclusion of scientific experts on all of their expeditions, allowing cruises to be highly educational
PONANT’s fleet can be categorised into three categories:
1. The newly refurbished 3-masted yacht, Le Ponant – boasting 16 cabins, for a total of 32 maximum guests, this vessel is ideal for the charter market for corporate groups, birthdays and travel companies to the Mediterranean destination.
2. The Sisterships – a series of four ships, purpose built as expedition ships, to be ice strengthened and built with stabilisers to ensure a safe journey to perilous Arctic and Antarctic destinations. These vessels are capable of carrying 230 guests, however this number is capped at 200 for Arctic expeditions to maximise value to passengers, as only 100 can go ashore at any one time.
3. The Explorers – a series of four ships currently, with two more on the way for the end of 2020. All named after French explorers, these ships are the same size as the Sisterships, but only cater to a maximum of 170 passengers. The decision was made to allow greater flexibility for passengers, and allow these cruises to be classified differently to larger cruising by local regulators.
The Future Of Cruising
When asked about his thoughts for the future, Craig was very positive that this sector would recover. PONANT has conducted surveys with past and prospective clients about redeployments and new offerings, and uncovered that 40% of their sample “couldn’t wait to travel again”, with 50% being hesitant, only waiting for further Government approvals, thus leaving only 10% with no desire for imminent travel. These results reaffirm Craig’s predictions, and suggests that while new-to-cruise travellers may be hesitant to undertake their first cruise at this time, returning cruisers are an ideal target market.
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