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PONANT’S Global Sales Ambassador, Frédéric Jansen

“Live in the moment”: How PONANT differs from other cruise lines

TORONTO — You can argue that the one and only downside to PONANT is the fact that its in-cabin Nespresso machines aren’t personally operated by George Clooney.

The quip brought on plenty of laughs at yesterday’s industry luncheon, which took place at Toronto’s George restaurant and was hosted by PONANT’S Global Sales Ambassador, Frédéric Jansen. Originally from Belgium and now based in Spain, Jansen has worked for close to 20 years as a Cruise Director for several cruise lines, most recently joining French-owned PONANT in 2012.

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Le Commandant Charcot (Credit: PONANT / STIRLING DESIGN INTERNATIONAL)

After giving travel agents in attendance the basics about the small luxury cruise line (it was created in 1988, is currently owned by French billionaire François Pinault, it comprises four sisterships and six EXPLORER ships – none of which holds more than 250 passengers – and it offers 400 cruises that call at over 450 ports on all seven continents), Jansen emphasized one very important differentiator that sets it apart from other cruise lines: its spontaneity and flexibility.

“I arrived on the Le Boreal in 2012 while sailing the Arctic,” he recalled. “There was a lecture going on by a fairly famous speaker when the Captain made an announcement 30 minutes in. As the Cruise Director I ran to the bridge and alerted the Captain that he was interrupting the lecture. His response was, ‘Yeah, I know, so what? You can do the lecture later, the animals are here right now.’ And that was completely new for me.”

This ‘live-in-the-moment’ philosophy can be seen in everything PONANT does both onboard and off. Passengers are free to dress up or dress down at meals, all literature onboard is available in French, English and braille to ensure that no passenger is left out, zodiacs have been known to accommodate passengers with disabilities on a whim, and its Captains have absolutely no qualms about waking guests at 3 a.m. to point out the Northern Lights.

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Le Laperouse Suite, Armateur (Credit: PONANT)

“The Captain himself will tell you on the first day that we need your participation,” said Jansen, adding that the company always has Plans A, B and C in place to accommodate last-minute surprises and changes in weather. “You need to be ready and be open to these experiences. We’re going to show you the world so that you can be ambassadors for the places we visit.”

For some, this may entail giving back to local communities (Jansen has seen passengers helping to create hospitals in destinations they visited while on a PONANT cruise), or simply meeting with locals and learning their traditions. He fondly recalled the time in Greenland when the Captain welcomed close to 170 Inuit villagers, including children, aboard the ship.

“The Pinault family only asks of us two things: to minimize our impact on the environment, and to respect local communities,” he said. “It’s in our DNA to go where others don’t go, and our motto is ‘We protect better what we know well’.”

All of PONANT’s ships go above standard Green certifications and are certified ‘Clean’ ships, plus they use advanced sonar tracking of icebergs as well as methods to halt ships without dropping anchor so as not to disrupt the ocean floor. The gas used for air conditioning and refrigeration has no impact on the ozone layer and emits minimal greenhouse gas, while low energy and low-heat emitting lighting system is used fleet-wide. Moreover, all water generated aboard is treated to prevent the potential risk of polluting aquatic environments, and 100% of waste is separated and sorted for recycling.

Sustainable travel, says Jansen, is of the utmost concern, now more than ever, particularly in high-volume destinations like Venice (PONANT docks away from the city centre at San Basilio terminal), and in wildlife-rich locales like the Arctic and Antarctica.

As a cruise operator in the polar regions for over 20 years, the company is well-versed in how to minimize its impact on both the environment and animals, and encourages everyone to see either the Arctic or Antarctica for themselves. But if your clients had to choose just one, hands down it should be Antarctica, said Jansen.

“The Arctic is inhabited while Antarctica is not. This means there are no hunters in Antarctica, so animals there are not afraid of people. We can go right up to a seal in a zodiac and it will barely move,” he said. “I once had a whale swim around my zodiac while singing. I have never been on an Antarctica cruise in all my years when I did not see whales, penguins, icebergs, birds and seals. You must go, at least once in your life.”

Le Soleal (Credit: Ponant) Margot Sibilaud

Le Soleal (Credit: PONANT / Margot Sibilaud)

Here’s what agents should keep in mind when selling PONANT in 2020 and beyond:

• Bookings are now open for PONANT’s highly anticipated Le Commandant-Charcot, set to debut in May 2021. Summer 2021 Arctic itineraries are now available, with winter 2021-2022 cruises in Antarctica opening for bookings on Dec. 5, 2019 (pre-bookings are now open). The hybrid electric ship will be powered by Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and will be the first luxury passenger vessel to travel to the Geographic North Pole at 90 degrees north latitude.

• Two new EXPLORER ships will debut next year: Le Bellot in April, and Le Jacques Cartier in July. As with all of PONANT’s EXPLORER ships, both vessels will offer 92 cabins as well as the multi-sensory underwater lounge, ‘Blue Eye’. Here, passengers can listen to the sound of whales and the ocean via two hydrophones integrated into the keel as well as through body-listening sofas while watching the marine world via two portholes in the shape of a cetaceous eye.

• Earlier this summer PONANT announced the acquisition of Paul Gauguin Cruises, which operates the 332-passenger m/s Paul Gauguin. This puts PONANT on track to expand its fleet to 14 ships by 2021, and also allows the line to offer the exotic islands of Tahiti, French Polynesia and the South Pacific.

• PONANT’s new partnership with the Musée du Louvre will lead to two new sailings in the Adriatic and Persian Gulf departing in August and November 2020, respectively. Onboard programming will be carefully designed with curators and department directors from the famed museum.

• PONANT will offer four new 8-day itineraries in 2020 from Alaska to British Columbia. On the July 22 departure, Le Soleal will sail along the Tracy Arm Fjord before exploring smaller inlets on the coast where guests can see humpback whales, waterfalls and neon blue glaciers.

• In Europe 2020, PONANT will have eight ships sailing over 15 new itineraries, including a nine-night, music-themed cruise in September of Northern Europe. The sailing will coincide with the worldwide celebration of Beethoven’s birth. In warmer waters, new Med sailings will include trips between Athens and Venice, as well as voyages through the Aegean Sea.

• In Asia 2020, Le Jacques Cartier will debut five Asia sailings in fall and winter, including an eight-night journey to Muscat, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha. Meanwhile, Le Laperouse will depart from Mumbai on Dec. 28 and continue south to the Maldives before concluding in Sri Lanka.

• In Africa 2020, Le Bougainville will embark on a selection of new expeditions in the Seychelles in winter, making a new port of call each day. In addition to exploring UNESCO World Heritage sites, passengers will spot wildlife like the indigenous Aldabra tortoise.

• All cruises include gratuities, taxes, open bar, 24-hour room service, unlimited Wi-Fi and shore landings via zodiac excursions on Expeditions.

OFFERS: PONANT is currently offering air credits of up to $2,400, and also waives the single supplement at any given time on anywhere from 20 to 100 cruises. Go to https://en.ponant.com/ for more information.