Ponant Building Up in North America

The top end of the luxury expedition market is solidly occupied by Ponant, which is in the midst of an aggressive expansion plan. By 2021 the French brand will have its sailing ship, four Boreal-class vessels, six new Explorer-class vessels, and the world’s first ice breaking luxury cruise ship.

It’s in Manhattan that Navin Sawhney, CEO Americas, is leading the charge to gain ground in the world’s biggest cruise market.

“The market has a fairly longer lead time than it did 10 years ago,” said Sawhney in a January interview. “We are very heavily focused on topping off 2018 and casting our eyes into 2019 in terms of our commercial activity.”

New hires include a director of sales as well as a vice president of marketing, along with former Crystal Cruises boss Edie Rodriguez, who was hired as brand chairman and special advisor last year.

One of Ponant's newbuilds under construction in Romania last year.

“The U.S. is the biggest market for expeditions, it is the biggest for cruising, and it is the biggest for luxury,” Sawhney said.

Demand is strong, with the brand planning further out than ever and releasing itineraries further out.

“We are recognizing the market is booking earlier.”


Ponant’s allotment of capacity is notably highly varied. While four ships are in Antarctica in the height of the season, there are also significant deployments in tropical and sub-tropical areas.

“It’s a very good market environment for us,” Sawhney continued. “We have a great deal happening in our expedition portfolio. Two years ago we were only doing expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic, and we’ve expanded that in tropical and sub-tropical areas.”


The new Explorer-class ships will join the fleet in pairs. Two this summer, and an additional two in 2019, and another two in 2021, which were ordered in March. 

The 180-passenger ships will be highlighted by the Blue Eye Lounge, an underwater lounge with large windows.

Rendering of the company's 2021-built Icebreaker

“We are full of innovation,” Sawhney said. The 180-guest ships come in slightly smaller than the 260-guest Boreal-class vessels, and will be the first in the wave of new expedition orders being delivered between now and 2022.

Come 2021, the company will take delivery of its hybrid ice-breaking 30,000-ton, 270-guest cruise ship, which is being built at a cost of $324 million at VARD. Features include 16 zodiacs and two helicopters. Planning had been underway for two years prior to the December announcement.

“The consumer is changing, the consumer has done a lot of things in the world of cruising and in the world of travel and therefore the ice breaker can provide a wonderful opportunity to take people to very remote regions,” Sawhney said.

Demand Curve

Sales channels are varied for the brand, which has historically chartered out capacity to major tour operators.

“Every channel is growing at a very fast rate,” continued Sawhney. “That is because of the types of ships we offer, because of the destinations we serve, and the manner in which we serve those destinations.”

Are they worried about the projected growth of the expedition market?

“No. We are not. Part of that is based on how well we see the demand shaping up for the years ahead. That is why we are building ships.”

Combining a near 20-year expedition history with a diverse product portfolio other companies can’t match, Sawhney said Ponant is well positioned with its additional capacity.

“People will instantly see the benefit of cruising on a small ship,” he noted.

Go inside the luxury sector of the global cruise industry with the the 2018 Cruise Luxury Market Report which is now available from Cruise Industry News.

The new report outlines the booming top-end of the cruise industry in a 60-page PDF detailing strategies of all the key luxury cruise brands, with capacity growth projections through 2027 and more key analysis. 

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