Le Commandant Charcot will sail new itineraries in 2023
Developing the ability to adapt and anticipate has been crucial for cruise brands in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Benoit Carassou-Maillan, vice president of product strategy and development at Ponant.
“The crisis has significantly impacted the way we design our itineraries,” he says. “Being able to quickly react to changes was key to survival in the short term and when restarting operations. We had to redesign most of our programmes in a more agile way knowing that our operations team might have to adapt them at very short notice. This was a big challenge and led to us restructuring our organisation to create dedicated teams to deal with the short-term itinerary adaptations and freeing up others to focus on the long-term thinking and prepare our future explorations.”
The ability to anticipate new market trends and guest demand is also an essential skill to have in the post-pandemic world, according to Carassou-Maillan.
“Most cruise lines took advantage of the pause in the operations to prepare future seasons and to anticipate their sales reopening, and we now need to plan three years in advance to secure the best berths,” he explains. “This period has been full of unexpected challenges, but it’s boosted the creativity of our teams and we’ve come up with new ideas that have driven the design of innovative activities and the exploration of new areas.”
Ponant’s innovative new approach to long-term itinerary planning is empowering it to easily cater to ever-changing guest expectations too. For example, the brand has identified a trend for guests to want to stay closer to home and has proactively developed itineraries to satisfy this demand.
“While there’s still strong interest in the polar regions, we’ve noticed that the most dynamic regions are not necessarily the most remote ones,” says Carassou-Maillan. “For example, cruises in the Kimberley region in Western Australia have been popular with Australians, while Americans are showing interest in the Great Lakes. Now that the US market has lower demand for cruises in the Baltics, voyages to the British Isles and Scandinavia seem to be more popular as well.”
Meanwhile, the Mediterranean Sea has particularly strong appeal for guests in the Europe Union (EU). “The Mediterranean offers us extensive opportunities to design itineraries with intimate places and off-the-beaten-path experiences that are close to home,” says Carassou-Maillan.
Guest expectations surrounding onshore experiences are changing too.
“Although the destination is still the main driver for guests choosing a cruise, they are also looking for meaningful experiences that will enable them to fully engage with the places they visit,” says Carassou-Maillan. “They’re looking for authenticity, so we provide educational experiences, moments of cultural discovery, opportunities to taste local cuisine, and much more. This is particularly noticeable with passengers from the EU who seem to favour deep-dive explorations that enable them to spend more time in destinations, even if it means we can’t include as many calls in the itinerary.”
A growing number of Ponant’s guests are also searching for opportunities to contribute to both the local communities and the sustainable development of the destinations they visit, particularly in the most remote places. “We’re catering to this where possible,” says Carassou-Maillan. “For example, guests onboard Le Commandant Charcot can participate in citizen science activities.”
Based on these new trends, Ponant has focused on several new areas when planning cruise itineraries for the coming seasons.
“We’re very excited about the development of new expeditions for Lake Superior in North America,” says Carassou-Maillan. “We’ve just had an interesting scouting experience in the region and plan to offer itineraries there for the first time in summer 2024.
Ponant’s latest luxury expedition cruise ship, Le Commandant Charcot, will also sail new itineraries in 2023. “The ship naturally comes to mind when we think about exploring new territories and next year, it will sail two iconic half-circumnavigations of Antarctica,” says Carassou-Maillan. “It will be an ambitious journey to the boundaries of the known world from the far south of the American continent to New Zealand. In November 2023, it will also offer another new expedition itinerary so guests can explore the lush landscapes and shores of Belize, Honduras and Guatemala.”
Meanwhile, Ponant will provide its first winter voyages in Norway in March 2024. “We’ve created an innovative itinerary dedicated to enabling guests to discover Nordic traditions and immerse themselves in the immenseness of the Norwegian Arctic polar world as they look for the northern lights,” says Carassou-Maillan. “This project is particularly important to Ponant as we had to postpone it due to the pandemic.”
This article was first published in the 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door.