Having firmly established a foothold in the expedition space, Ponant Asia Pacific is set to place a greater emphasis on filling the French luxury cruise line’s yachting program, new regional head, Chris Hall, says.
Speaking exclusively with LATTE last week in Christchurch aboard Le Commandant Charcot, Hall – just two weeks into the role – was full of kudos for the Asia Pacific team and how they have successfully shaped the region into one of Ponant’s fastest-growing markets, globally.
“Co-GMs, Deb [Corbett] and Max [Farrenq] have their team humming, and already have business plans and budgets in place. Everything is running very smoothly,” he said.
The Melburnian spent the last few months of 2022 getting his head around how the business ticks as an ‘Ambassador’, travelling to Marseilles to meet with Ponant’s chain of command, including CEO Hervé Gastinel. Hall commenced in his official capacity as of 1 February 2023 and is now getting familiar with “everything” on the local front.
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As Sarina Bratton, Chairman Asia Pacific and Special Advisor to Executive, Ponant stated to travel partners at the event last Monday night, this region now accounts for an incredible 20% of sales for Ponant.
Hall told LATTE that the “huge growth out of APAC needs to continue with more inventory coming online.” That is in the form of Ponant’s latest vessels that were delivered during the pandemic, increasing the fleet to a total of 13. Le Jacques Cartier, the sixth and final ship in the Explorer series was delivered in July 2020, while the standalone luxury icebreaker Le Commandant Charcot came online in July 2021.
Hall believes now is an opportunity for the Asia Pacific region to “really establish ourselves.”
Locally, Ponant’s primary focus has been on domestic and close-to-home expedition itineraries for the Australian market, and on the Kimberley region where ships Le Lapérouse and Le Soléal have been deployed in recent years.
“The expedition side of the business is strong but there’s the whole yachting side that needs a focus.”
By ‘yachting’, Hall is referring to the sun, pool and warm water destinations such as the Mediterranean. In addition to the recently renovated sailing yacht, Le Ponant, that includes Ponant’s polar expedition (PEX) ships that also operate in warm waters throughout the year.
“As our ships are flexible, some being specifically built for polar, like Charcot, and others being polar and having yachting capabilities.”
“I think there’s more opportunity there, particularly from Australians who have already been in the Kimberley, to then look at other destinations not necessarily on our doorstep.”
“As we become more confident in travel again and as airline capacity comes back, and a bit more normality around travel, I think there are some really great opportunities beyond the APAC region as a destination,” Hall explained.
“The Med, Arctic, Antarctica of course, Alaska and other deployments of the PEX ships.”
“Ponant has a great following. Once people do one, they seem to do many and there’s a strong loyalty program, so I see a lot of opportunities ahead in that space too,” the former APT Group boss said.
Hall has joined Ponant Asia Pacific as the team continues to grow, now numbering around 30, with new recruits in China, Japan, Taiwan and India. He noted that Ponant’s demand from China since it allowed its citizens to travel has been incredible.
“The growth in sales from China after the reopening was switched on straight away, especially for [Le Commandant] Charcot. That’s exciting to see that kind of activation straight away.”
Hall said no longer is Ponant a French-market-only brand. It has widened its appeal not only out of Australia and Asia Pacific, but also from the USA and to a smaller extent, the UK.
His vast experience working in international businesses brings an international focus in terms of the internal workings of Ponant.
“I’ve worked across the larger English-speaking market to bring those insights to Marseilles. As we continue to evolve the onboard product, we want to make sure that we are catering to this broader market base that we now have, given the distribution that we’ve been pretty successful with to date.
“We need to make sure that decision-making isn’t just about the French market but is about a multi-national market approach that we are developing,” Hall added.