For thoughtful travellers, the lust for far-flung adventures is now tempered by thoughts of their impact on the planet. The Virtuoso network of luxury travel advisors polled clients and found that 82 per cent said the pandemic has made them want to travel more responsibly in the future, and 70 per cent believe travelling sustainably enhances their vacation experience.
It’s a specialty for Toronto-based advisor Tom Gehrels. “There’s definitely growth in the small-group adventure travel market, which comes with a much lower impact on the destination. I do think more and more operators are jumping on the bandwagon,” Gehrels tells Sharp.
His firm, Adventure Coordinators, offers an incentive to clients: if they invest as little as one per cent of their tour cost in carbon mitigation projects, he’ll match their donation. “I’m finding the uptake is higher among younger people. Which may well be because they’re looking at their own future,” he says.
Gehrels advises travellers concerned about sustainability to think small — smaller destinations, smaller cruise ships, smaller groups — like the new offering from Ponant Cruises we are looking at today. It all makes for a bigger, deeper experience that not only causes less damage, but offers a special level of luxury as well.
Gehrels is a fan of Ponant cruises, founded in the ’80s by young officers of the French Merchant Navy who dreamed of distant and unexplored regions. It specializes in smaller ships, allowing them to go to places inaccessible to the floating behemoths of the seas while causing minimal impact. The company performs environmental impact studies on all their destinations and develops routes that won’t disturb local plants and animals. While Ponant goes to many exotic locations around the world, the Antarctic is a specialty. It boasts expertise in navigating around icebergs and the ability to get close enough to land that travellers can get off the ship, hop into Zodiacs, and step ashore onto the frozen continent for walks that are guided by naturalists. “I like the luxury element and the fact that they do more adventurous cruises,” says Gehrels. “It’s a more genuine experience.”
For 2021, Ponant cruises is launching its newest ship — Le Commandant Charcot — and billing it as the “first luxury hybrid polar exploration vessel.” There are only 123 rooms, and the ship is powered by electric batteries and liquefied natural gas, meaning that it will have zero emissions when operated in the hybrid electric mode. Among the stops for Le Commandant Charcot will be Peter I Island, one of the most remote places on earth (Ponant says it has had fewer human visitors than the moon). You can take a tethered hot air balloon ride for a high-angle view of Antarctica or go diving for an underwater experience of polar wildlife. Along the way, you may spot orcas, minke whales, and penguins, or participate in environmental research expeditions.
While the location and its conditions may be extreme, Ponant strives to balance them with ultimate comfort on board. Where the original Antarctic explorers huddled in tents, fighting frostbite and exhaustion, modern travellers can be pampered within sight of icebergs and frozen landscapes. After you’ve had your daily fill of nature and bracing clean air, Le Commandant Charcot offers French-style luxury with five-star standards of service and amenities. There are spa therapies by SOTHYS, sweet treats by Ladurée, and menus created by the company helmed by celebrity chef Alain Ducasse.