Ponant’s Sawhney: Opportunities and Challenges

Ponant Ship

Coming out of the pandemic, Ponant is set for “terrific opportunities,” said the company’s Americas CEO Navin Sawhney.

“The collaboration with our shore-based partners and teams across different parts of the world has really helped us forge through with some incredible opportunities for our guests to enjoy in the coming months and years,” he said, speaking at an industry conference in Florida in March.

Sawhney said Ponant has a fleet of 13 ships that include Le Ponant, a three-masted sailing yacht, and Le Commandant Charcot, a luxury icebreaker.

[For a complete overview of the luxury cruise market, see the 2023 Luxury Market Report by Cruise Industry News.]

“Each of these has its own peculiarities, so it’s essential for us to sit and think very thoughtfully and purposefully as to how to make the challenges turn into opportunities,” he said.

The consumer has changed quite remarkably in the last few years, Sawhney noted and is now looking for experiences that are authentic.

“It’s no longer just ticking the box. They want experiential but beyond that, they are looking for transformational experiences,” he added, saying that some guests are even revisiting places to better understand destinations like Iceland.

There, they can visit and witness the Beluga Whale Sanctuary to understand why it has been created, he said. While in a place like Northeast Greenland, passengers can go on a polar trek to observe how the Inuit community lives, Sawhney added.

“Those are the types of things that I think people are seeking out. It doesn’t matter if you’re in polar regions or in a place like Japan or the Baltic,” he said, noting that customers want to rediscover the destinations with authentic experiences and not just see “another cathedral or another boardwalk.”

The mindset of the guests has also changed over the past years, Sawhney said, with new preferences arising.

“Instead of sight-seeing, instead of sigh-doing, they want to sight-to-come. That’s the kind of local immersion that they are seeking,” he explained.

Sustainability also plays an important role for younger generations, he said, and helps attract new cruisers.

An important part of the company’s strategy is to have a fleet of small ships, which are ideal for green operations.

“When you go into a coastal community – and it doesn’t have to be in the remote parts of the planet – you cannot overcrowd it. The best way for people to enjoy that experience is to have a small group of people that are likeminded,” he said.

While a goal, like reaching zero emissions by 2050 is important, the commitment to the environment must go beyond that, he said.

According to Sawhney, cruise lines need to work with the three “Cs”: creativity, collaboration, and counting.

“The industry is not in the business of science; it is in the business of hospitality, but it partners brilliantly with the world of science. To be creative and collaborate are two aspects of the partnership.”

The companies also need to create metrics around the initiatives and measures, he added, to be able to tell if they are effective or not.

[For a complete overview of the luxury cruise market, see the 2023 Luxury Market Report by Cruise Industry News.]

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