Ponant predicts strong growth in Asia


French expedition cruise line Ponant is predicting strong growth in its Asia Pacific market – up by 5 per cent to reach 20 per cent this year.

“Asia Pacific is the fastest growing market for Ponant comprising 15 per cent last year. We expect the figure will reach 20 per cent by the end of 2016,’’ expedition manager for Asia Pacific Mick Fogg says in an interview with ASEAN Cruise News.

Ponant’s biggest market is from French-speaking countries at 50 per cent. North America/Canada is the second biggest at 35 per cent.

He noticed that a growing number of Asian adventure seekers have cruised with Ponant to the polar regions recently and it is likely that numbers will increase over the next few years, Mr Fogg says.

“Once they have been to the Arctic and Antarctica with us and enjoy the experience, it is likely they will return and choose other Ponant expedition cruises in Europe and Asia Pacific. We have an office in Shanghai and see good growth potential from the Chinese market.’’

For 2016-17, L’Austral will stay in the Asia Pacific region for nine out of 12 months cruising from Japan, Australia to New Zealand.

His remarks come as Ponant’s L’Austral, prepares to make its inaugural journey to Western Australia’s Kimberley region for the first time in July next year.

The veteran adventure leader of 120 Kimberley expeditions, Mr Fogg describes the region as the “one of the world’s last great wilderness areas with spectacular gorges, desolate mountains, magnificent waterfalls and living indigenous culture dating more than 40,000 years old.

“At 425,000 sq kilometres, the Kimberley region is the size of California but with only 45,000 inhabitants, mostly indigenous people.

“It is 1.8 billion years old and much of the Kimberley pre-dates life as we know it. There are enormous areas which are so old that no fossils can be found.’’

When the company recently launched its four itineraries from Darwin to Broome and Darwin to Darwin between July and September next year, the response has been phenomenal, especially from Australian adventure seekers.

“For many Australians, the Kimberley is on their bucket list – it is a very Australian thing to visit the region, especially on Ponant’s L’Austral where after a full day in a zodiac, passengers can return to a ship with a distinctly French flair.

“All our itineraries of 11 days from Darwin to Broome will be led by a team of 12 experienced expedition guides looking after 220 passengers.’’

Some of the highlights of the Kimberley expedition include Buccaneer archipelago which has the largest population of humpback whales. An estimated 36,000 humpbacks migrate from Antarctica to mate and breed in Australian waters between the months of July and September.

“And the population of these migrating humpbacks are increasing between 8 per cent to 10 per cent a year,’’ Mr Fogg says.

The last port of call is at Lacepede Islands, one of the world’s biggest bird rookery and home to the brown boobies, frigates and roseate terns. It is also WA’s most important breeding habitat for green turtles.’’

When he started leading expeditions to the Kimberley more than 10 years ago, there were probably only four cruise companies operating in the region. Today, there are at least 18 operators with Silver Discoverer, its closest rival in the luxury sector, now that Lindblad’s National Geographic Orion has pulled out of Australia.

“It’s a natural progression for Ponant to cruise the Kimberley. We have been planning our return to the region for sometime.

“Ponant’s five ships are new, technologically more advanced and the only certified green vessels. One of our sister ship, Le Soleal recently cruised to the Antarctica where there were 8m high waves and guests were still drinking from long-stemmed wine glasses and not a drop was spilt,’’ he says.