Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Paul Gauguin - The Future

Today I had a very interesting discussion with Roy Grimsland, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Paul Gauguin Shipping Limited, the owner and soon to be exclusive operator of the Paul Gauguin cruise ship now being chartered, in effect, by Regent Seven Seas Cruise Line through 2009.

As is set forth in various press releases, while the ship is owned by Grand Circle Travel (and, to be honest, there have been some consumer-related issues associated with it), Paul Gauguin Shipping Limited is being set up as a wholly owned subsidiary. This will probably allow some independence and - unique to GCT - opens up the ability to work with travel agents directly (something GCT does not do). While the goal is to have this in place by January 2009, it may take a bit longer. In the present state of affairs, the greater the marketing abilities the better.

Also, while not explicitly discussed, the concept of the Paul Gauguin leaving French Polynesia as GCT had previously announced it was contemplating seems to be a thing of the past; allowing everyone to still have a year-round option for cruising French Polynesia in style. UPDATE: It has been announced that for 2010 the Paul Gauguin will operate the same seven night cruises to the Society Islands (Papeete, Raiatea, Taha’a, Bora Bora and Moorea) as well as longer cruises of 9 to 17 days including the islands of Fiji, Tonga, New Caledonia, Australia, Cook Islands, Marquesas, Tuamotus, Australs and the Society Islands.

While Mr. Grimsland is still "getting his feet wet", one of the interesting - and promising - focuses of my discussion was the desire for consistency of product from staffing to cabins to food to service. Rather than discussing the "hits" we spent more time discussing the "misses"...something I was pleased about. Patting oneself on the back is not a way to improve a product...even a good one.

While the essence of cruising French Polynesia is for most, well French Polynesia, some of misses I saw during my August 2007 cruise will be addressed if they have not already been. Making sure service is consistent was one topic he raised; discussing the problems heard about another luxury line...and not from me! He asserts that "hit or miss" is not acceptable. All dining room service, for example, must be solid. To be fair, he did not state it must be of luxury quality, but alas most don't really look for that in FP. We look for consistent, solid, quality.

We also talked about some of the little things, like lower category cabins having old TVs and VCRs while upper cabins have flat screen TVs and DVD players; inconsistent toiletries; occasional threadbare towels, etc. Mr. Grimsland commented that if they still exist it is disappointing (he is so new that inspecting the ship hasn't yet happened...but give him a a bit of time!) and are easy fixes...noting that there is about to be a $6,000,000 refurbishment with new balconies added and updated soft goods. It is nice to hear that such things are not seen as acceptable or obstacles.

We did not have time to discuss how transitioning is going to happen as to crew, staff or operations. Considering there is a year to sort those things out, that is not to be unexpected. While I am sure the staff and crew are going to be anxious, and rumors are things that crew live on, I hope that it is addressed sooner rather than later.

UPDATE: I have a bit of further - albeit tenative - information. While things are very fluid and are subject to change, the plan seems to be to keep everything that works and to keep the staff as well. So, the liquor inclusive policy, Ambassadors of the Environment, scuba program, etc. are all anticipated to remain in place. Similarly, the idea appears to be to keep the present staff on the ship.

Why am I not being more definitive? Because there is a long way to go from "We want to do this" to "We have this finalized and in place". To be fair it will take some time to sort it all out. But what I can say is that Paul Gauguin Shipping's responsiveness has be exceptionally good so far. Fingers Crossed!

For a bit of context I have posted below a compilation of my comments on my 2007 cruise on the Paul Gauguin.