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More Chinese travelers set foot in Antarctica

By Cheng Si | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-03-14 22:25

Tourists in kayaks explore Antarctica in February. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Chinese tourists are a common sight in almost every continent of the world, and their eagerness to explore new and different destinations is now taking some of them literally to the final frontier of travel — the frozen continent of Antarctica.

The global tourism industry is hoping to cash in on Chinese tourists' well-known wanderlust to help tap the potential of this land at the world's end with its pristine glaciers and distinctive wildlife.

But if you fancy spending your next vacation in Antarctica, be prepared to pay a hefty price for the privilege.

"The trip costs at least 100,000 yuan ($13,900) per person," said Li Peng, travel portal Tuniu's director for long-distance outbound trips.

This is the most popular choice among the travel portal's Antarctic offerings, explained Li, adding that it is a 17-day trip combining travel to Argentina and the icebound continent, with departures in December and next February.

Tuniu also offers a monthlong trip to South America and Antarctica in late October, with room prices reaching 350,000 yuan per person so far, he added.

"The cruise trip to the frozen continent is usually on presale one year before the departure date and customers holding US tourist visas can get quicker access to Argentina or Chile, the two main starting points for travel to Antarctica," he said.

During the Antarctic tourism season from late 2022 to early 2023 — usually from November to March — 103,988 people worldwide visited the continent, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, an international organization promoting responsible travel to the continent.

It's the first time that traveler numbers exceeded 100,000 since the continent opened to scientific expedition and tourism around the 1950s.

The association said that China is the second-largest source of travelers to the continent, and it expects that the number of Chinese travelers to Antarctica will recover to 80 percent of the pre-COVID-19 level during the ongoing Antarctic tourism season.

According to the association, 8,273 Chinese people visited the continent during the 2017-18 tourism season, accounting for 16 percent of the total and coming second to the United States.

The number of Chinese tourists dropped to 1,464 in the 2022-23 tourism season, due to the impact of the pandemic.

The association's optimistic outlook for Chinese travel to Antarctica is based on the growing number of package tours coming onto the market in China.

For example, Chinese National Geography — a magazine published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences — released a 17-day tourism and study group tour to Antarctica in November.

The 130 places on the tour, which costs at least 99,800 yuan per person and departs from Beijing in November, were soon sold out.

It was the third group tour to Antarctica organized by the magazine last year. All of the places on the previous two trips, which departed in January and February, were soon snapped up by eager travelers.

"We've seen Chinese tourists traveling to the continent since late 1990s, but we estimate the business will experience a relatively slow recovery in next two years due to the high travel costs," said Lyu Caihui, who works on cruise ships visiting polar regions.

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