The arrival of Ponant’s Le Laperouse in Auckland next month is a beacon of hope for Australia’s cruise industry.

After months of painstaking negotiations by the line’s Asia Pacific chair Sarina Bratton, the French luxury adventure small ship operator welcomed the news over Christmas that they had the green light  to sail in the region.

Australia’s cruise lines also celebrated.  Their hope will be that the success of the Ponant venture, which will carry New Zealanders only, might persuade the Australian authorities to allow similar cruises.

Deb Corbett, Ponant’s commercial director said the arrival of Le Laperouse on February 8 will be an exciting development for the cruise industry in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.

“We were so ecstatic and excited to have a Ponant ship on the way for the first sailing in New Zealand. Hopefully this may carve the path for other itineraries and voyages in New Zealand and Australia,” she said.

Le Laperouse’s first voyage departs Auckland on February 8 to the Subantarctic islands and under conditions of New Zealand’s approval, we will be sailing with just 100 guests.”

Ms Corbett says Le Laperouse generally sails with around 160 people, which means that the ship will be sailing at reduced capacity  – but not by a significant amount.

Aside from Ponant’s health and safety protocols, Ms Corbett said the line would be altering health protocols according to the mandates from each country. For example, sailings on French itineraries will require passengers to wear masks in public spaces, while guests in New Zealand will not have to follow this rule.

“Sales are going well, and we have a lot of interest from the Kiwis. Unlike the Kimberley voyages, the suites are selling from the bottom up and we are finding that there are a significant number of new to brand cruisers,” she said.

Le Laperouse will be sailing on two more voyages in New Zealand as well as two privately chartered sailings. The amount of interest we have seen during the pre-registration period was phenomenal.”

The next question though, is when will Ponant be able to sail in Australia?

Le Laperouse is scheduled for a number Chairman’s Cruises from Melbourne to Fremantle over March before she sails Western Australia’s Kimberley region. Ponant last year, announced three additional sailings, which Ms Corbett said were in high demand.

While she was unable to comment about the current state of approvals, Ms Corbett said she is hopeful Ponant will get approval to sail in Australia.

Currently, Coral Expeditions and True North, two small Australian expedition lines have successfully completed voyages in Queensland, the Kimberley and Tasmania and hosted hundreds of passengers without any issues.

Australia has extended its cruise ban until March 17, which will be a massive decider for the state of the country’s cruise industry for 2021. And perhaps, the pilot sailing of Le Laperouse in New Zealand will set the benchmark for the return of cruise.