Since CMA CGM recently acquired a 70 percent ownership in Compagnie Des Iles Du Ponant, plans call for acquiring two to three more mid-sized ships in the next couple of years, according to Ponant President and CEO Philippe Videau.
The French-flagged cruise line currently owns three ships, including the Le Diamant (ex-Song of Flower) which it acquired last year.
"Ponant offers us a wonderful product, experience and a fine reputation," explained Herve StallaBourdillon, senior vice president of cruises and tourism for CMA CGM. "We feel working with them is a great opportunity because the luxury market is booming, and I see things picking up even more as baby-boomers take notice."
Stalla-Bourdillon pointed out that he met with other lines in similar niches before deciding on investing in Ponant, but had more of a camaraderie with the French line. "It also helped that we are both from France," he added.
While Stalla-Bourdillon acknowledged that Ponant is a small company, he insisted that the potential is there. "We can and will offer the line an opportunity to develop at a more rapid pace, " he underlined, pointing out that eventually at least six new vessels would be needed to be a major player and effectively compete with the North American and European markets.
CMA CGM was formed by the 1999 merger of Compagnie Maritime D'Affretement and Compagnie Generale Maritime, and is one of the world's largest shipping companies.
"We are the only player in the French market; there is no one left," explained Videau.
He said that because Carnival Corporation, along with other major players are pushing bigger ships, there is a strong demand for what Ponant offers.
"It's an open space to take advantage of," Videau stated. "The goal here is to take advantage of an opportunity to expand our capacity with CMA CGM, while at the same time having them benefit by entering a growing niche market.
Videau said although Ponant's target market will still be the French, he hopes to develop it even more while simultaneously making more of an impact in the U.S.
Ponant launched cruise service with the 67-passenger sailing vessel Le Ponant in 1991, sailing out of Guadeloupe and catering to French passengers. The 90-passenger motor vessel Le Levant was introduced in 1998 and also offers cruises on the Great Lakes and in New England and Canada. Last year, the company acquired the Song of Flower for $10 million and claims to have spent another $10 million refurbishing the 1986-built vessel.