Recent figures from the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) show that the number of Chinese visitors to the South Pole has risen forty-fold over the last decade, climbing from just 99 adventurers in 2006 to 4,100 last year.
The Singaporean newspaper Lianhe Zaobao said the trip to the polar icecap can have a positive impact on the visitors, making them more aware of the need to protect the environment.
But other Chinese tourists have been less moved by the serenity of the south. In 2015 a report from Xinhua detailed how a number of news reporters from the mainland had found that some of their compatriots were making themselves unwelcome with their unruly behaviour.
One tour guide was quoted as complaining, “Every time I take a group to the South Pole, there are always Chinese people breaking the rules: shouting loudly in the breeding grounds of wild animals, encroaching on their space so that they can take pictures, disrupting the animals’ activity, trampling on plant life, leaving litter, failing to regroup on time, flaunting their wealth, and gambling all night on the cruise ship.”
The tour packages aren’t cheap, costing between Rmb70,000 and Rmb160,000 ($10,000-$23,000) a head, the Global Times reports.
But as disposable income grows in China so do the possibilities for its tourists, and Antarctica is one of the hot spots for bolder travellers.
In fact, the number of South Pole-seekers from China is expected to reach 5,000 this year, making the country’s tourists second only to the Americans in yearly visits.