While the concept of adventure travel in Western markets is as old as Marco Polo, until very recently, Chinese travelers had very limited options when it came to premium travel. This proved particularly true in regards to adventure travel to risky and exciting destinations, like the Himalayas or even Antarctica.
There has been a dramatic increase in the demand for “adventure travel” in the Chinese market in the past five to ten years
The last five to ten years have seen a dramatic increase in the variety of adventure and travel experiences that Chinese travelers want to experience and the term shendulü (深度游 in-depth travel) has been used to describe experiences as diverse mountain climbing and visits to local farmers markets.
More recently, more well-traveled Chinese who have already ticked off the major destinations have been demanding significantly more adventurous and exciting travel adventures that push them well out of their comfort zone.
A recent article on the Chinese desire to undertake risky mountain climbing expeditions to Mount Everest outlines the inherent issues with unfit and inexperienced climbers taking on the monumental task of mountain climbing and looks at some of the social and emotional drivers of these travelers.
The number of Chinese tourists traveling to Antarctica has grown from 100 to just under 4,000 between 2008 and 2016
With the recent opening of Antarctica to Chinese travelers, the number of Chinese tourists to Antarctica has grown significantly, from fewer than 100 in 2008 to 3,944 in 2016. Visitors from China are now the second largest group of travelers, and this is expected to increase significantly.
But what’s driving the growth of these travelers? What kind of experiences are they looking for and what are their expectations from tour operators who take them there?
Tours of Antarctica start at a whopping $20,000, but can soar past $100,000
Undertaking a visit to Antarctica is a time consuming and expensive business, and those that can travel to places as far afield as Antarctica needed to have two main resources: time and money, indicating that visitors will most likely be business owners who can take off for a month with limited contact. The cost of such a trip can also well exceed $100,000 for the most premium services with chartered flights to the South Pole. Even the most budget travel packages are more than $20,000.
Because of the significant investment of time and resources, most of the Chinese travelers to the Antarctic are older than that the average Chinese traveler, and often in their late 40s or 50s, and sometimes older. Interestingly, they are younger than the Western counterparts who are often in their 60s and 70s.
The logistics of getting to and from the continent are complicated. Travelers must go to either South America or South Africa before jumping aboard an expedition vessel with varying levels of comfort, particularly when traversing the Southern Ocean.
Those who are more cashed up may take the option of flying in a chartered jet—usually a bumpy Russian cargo plane or, if lucky, a private business jet. Food choices are limited; Wi-Fi is non-existent, and accommodation, while comfortable, is nothing like staying at the Four Seasons.
Unfortunately, the logistics Antarctic travel make it difficult to meet the expectations of comfort of rich Chinese tourists
Once guests arrive in Antarctica, they spend about five days on the actual peninsula doing various day trips to view local wildlife and other natural attractions. Visitors to the actual South Pole must endure another flight on a very basic aircraft so they can take the obligatory destination photo.
Unfortunately, cashed up Chinese travelers, regardless of the difficulty of the destination, often expect the same levels of service and/or comfort as a trip to the US; despite tour operators and guides lengthy explanations. The overall attitude is that money buys everything, even inclement weather. There remains the expectation that if they can pay for it, they expect to get what they want, regardless of the degree of difficulty.
Based on feedback from the few operators that take groups there the motivation for visiting Antarctica is more likely to be driven by ticking destinations off a bucket list and have the photographic evidence to prove it, and less on participating in the journey and the experience itself. Perhaps as the travel market matures and the next generation of travelers begin to explore our planet’s natural wonders, there will be a greater desire to understand the importance of Antarctica, and not just treat as a place to tick off a list.