Ponant Tells Advisors: It IS About the Destination!

L to R: Frederic Jansen, Global Sales Ambassador, PONANT, Erica Barbour, Manager of Business Development, Quebec, PONANT, Olga Sebestova, Manager, Brand Marketing at Cruise Strategies, Theresa Gatta, VP sales, North America, PONANT,

When you ask a senior representative of a French-owned cruise company what separates them from the competition, you expect a response littered with turns of phrases such as “world-class cuisine,” and “the finest wines from Bordeaux.”

But when I ask PONANT Global Sales Ambassador Frederic Jansen what separates his cruise line from the others, he takes me in another direction.

“Having worked as a cruise director for 20 years with other cruise lines, I would say that when you go on a cruise you always expect a great cabin, great food and great service. We have that. But with PONANT you have the destinations and what we do at the destinations.

“We go where other ships can’t go, because we have very small ships. Our smallest is 32 passengers, a sailing ship. Six of our ships carry up to 160 passengers, four have a maximum of 230, and the icebreaker has 240, but we seldom carry that many.”

L to R: Elaine Higgins, Direct Travel; Ellen VanderKooy, Vision Travel, Nour Elzaim, Direct Travel

PONANT met with travel advisors in Toronto on 16NOV, staging an intimate cocktail reception and Q&A session at the Sheraton Airport Hotel titled “Explore to Inspire.”

“The Canadian market is a great market for us,” Jansen told Open Jaw in a one-on-one interview. “We’ve increased the number of PONANT representatives in Canada.”

Jansen said his team was also gathering in Montreal for a similar session on 17NOV - and why that advisor outreach is so important to the brand. “Agents help consumers, and they’re good for us, because they know what their clients want.”

“We are so grateful for you,” Theresa Gatta, VP sales, North America, added.

Jansen also revealed that PONANT is offering a special incentive for advisors, who earn a gift card of $500 per stateroom for new bookings on all PONANT sailings made and deposited by 30NOV, 2022. The deal is for sailings of eight nights or more, based on double occupancy. If a cruise is seven nights or less, advisors get a gift card of $30. Their clients also get 5 per cent savings on their voyage.

Christine James, Travel Leaders and Mary Tereshyn, 510 Travel.

The company has more than 400 departures for 2023, with more than 450 ports of call around the world on a dozen ships, with a 13th on the way.

“It’s a company that has grown so fast,” Jansen said. “We’ve had seven new ships in the past four years, so the fleet is practically brand new.”

“We have an ultra-modern and environmentally responsible fleet,” he said. For example, their polar ships use a combination of hybrid electric and Liquefied Natural Gas, which means they make no noise and don’t disturb the wildlife. “Animals are curious, and they often come right up to the ship.”

One thing that has changed as the company has grown is that trips have become increasingly more English-speaking. “Before it was much more French, but now the majority of our cruises are English-speaking, and much more international.”

Jansen said that travellers who take an expedition trip with PONANT have all their excursions included, “and that is regardless of whether it’s a polar expedition or a tropical expedition.”

PONANT is known for its polar expeditions, but they also have a 14-day Caribbean cruises and visit such far-flung spots as Western Australia, the Seychelles and Vanuatu in the South Pacific. “We visit tribes in Panama and Papua New Guinea, taking our Zodiacs up a river so you can meet with them. One thing we do that’s different is we invite villagers on board our ships.”

They’re also always looking for new places to explore.

“We have a captain, an expedition leader and an excursion manager all looking now at new places around Belize and Honduras and talking to local populations who might be able to welcome us,” Jansen said.

“We visit a lot of UNESCO sites, but we often go at times that others don’t. In the Mediterranean we like to go in October when all the big ships have gone. In March we go to Norway to see the fjords and also the northern lights.”

Jansen said PONANT cruises feature exceptional guest speakers and experts who can talk about culture, history and more. They also have an exclusive partnership with Smithsonian Journeys and offer themed voyages that embrace cultural immersion.

 

Other PONANT features include the Blue Eye, an underwater lounge with cameras that show what’s happening below the sea and microphones so passengers can hear what’s happening underwater. Blue Eye lounges are found on PONANT Explorer ships, and they turn into a champagne lounge at night.

Pricing on PONANT is all-inclusive, with an open bar, gratuities, port fees and onboard Wi-Fi all taken care of. PONANT representatives also said that the company offers more than 100 departures for solo travellers with no single supplement.

Of course, being French, passengers will find fine brands on board such as Veuve Clicquot and Hermes. Le Commandant Charcot features the only Alain Ducasse restaurant at sea.

And as for the cuisine, Jansen said it is excellent. “But I’m Belgian,” he said. “I’m not French. I like that I don’t just get two little things on my plate.”

Jim Byers

Jim Byers is a freelance travel writer based in Toronto. He was formerly travel editor at the Toronto Star and now writes for a variety of publications in Canada and around the world. He's also a regular guest on CBC, CTV News, Global News and other television and radio networks.

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