Paul Gauguin Cruises is being acquired by Ponant in a deal that will bring together two lines with French lineages that share a substantial interest in growing their share of the North American source market.

Ponant plans to keep the Paul Gauguin brand, its management, its Bellevue, Wash.-based offices and its longtime president, Diane Moore.

The key goal is to cross-market the two lines, which have similar-size ships but different itineraries and somewhat different source markets.

"It's fairly logical why we acquired Paul Gauguin," said Navin Sawhney, CEO of the Americas for Ponant.

"I think what this allows us to do is to offer the Ponant portfolio to the Paul Gauguin audience and to offer this wonderful bucket-list destination in French Polynesia and Tahiti to the Ponant guests that we've accumulated over the years in North America," Sawhney said.

Although Ponant ships do sail the South Pacific, it is usually on a through route to other stops, whereas Paul Gauguin's one, eponymous ship sails there year-round. Also, the Paul Gauguin has planted deep cultural roots in Polynesia.

"It's a ship that's almost instantaneously associated, even by people who are not familiar with the world of cruising, with Tahiti," Sawhney said.

Named for the French post-impressionist painter who lived in Tahiti in the 1890s, Paul Gauguin Cruises has been operated for the past 10 years by Pacific Beachcomber, which also operates a half-dozen resorts in French Polynesia.

After it was built in 1998 at the Chantiers de l'Atlantique yard in St. Nazaire, France, the Paul Gauguin sailed for Regent Seven Seas Cruises under a 10-year lease that expired in 2009.

The 332-passenger ship has been especially attractive in two markets: weddings/honeymoons and incentive groups. But the eight-hour flight from Los Angeles to Tahiti can be an obstacle for some. 

Ponant was founded by a French merchant marine captain, flags its ships in France and is owned by Paris-based Groupe Artemis, a luxury goods conglomerate. It has stuck to small ships and expedition itineraries throughout its 30-year history. It now has nine ships, with three more on the way. 

Beyond the U.S. and France, it has source markets in Germany, the U.K., Australia and Asia.

Sawhney said nothing will change for agents after the acquisition. 

"Whoever within our travel partner communities is currently dealing with a certain director of sales with Paul Gauguin, they will continue to have the same person with them with Paul Gauguin, and if they have people on the Ponant side dealing with them, they will continue to deal with the Ponant director of sales," he said. 

"The commercial agreements with our consortium partners will remain exactly the same," he added.

Moore said the Paul Gauguin will continue to offer Pearls, its self-paced specialist training program for agents. 

"Pearls partners receive access to resources including exclusive sales and marketing trainings, advance notice of special promotions, shipboard credit offers, marketing tools and bonus commissions," she said.


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