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Penguins Beware: China's Super-Rich Flock To Antarctica

A chilly bit of 'wealth flaunting' in time for the Chinese New Year.

Chinese couple getting married in Antarctica
Chinese couple getting married in Antarctica

For China's expanding class of super-rich, the search is always on for the most exclusive family travel destination for the Chinese New Year. This year has sparked a rush to a particularly cool (ok, cold) new spot: Antarctica.

Less about exploration or adventure, the Mandarin-language website The Paper reports that the real motivation is simply that few can afford it. So, flaunting one's wealth in China now comes with penguins, it appears.

For 80,000 to 120,000 RMBs ($12,760 to $19,140) per person, Ctrip, one of China's major online tourist agencies, organizes package tours for those who enjoy setting themselves apart from others. Keep in mind that this southernmost destination is restricted by the International Association of Antarctic Tourism Organizations to around 40,000 tourists annually.

The number of Chinese visitors to Antarctica has increased 40-fold over the past 10 years, from 99 to 4,100 persons between 2006 to 2016, making it the second largest group of visitors after the United States, according to the United Morning Post of Singapore

Expecting the number of Chinese tourists will rise even further, China boasts of having opened its first commercial flight to the South Pole last December.

This bit of modern China's "flaunting consumption" raises concerns about a potential threat to Antarctica's fragile environment, with some warning that Chinese tourists might trample on the local surroundings. As evidence, critics point to a collection of photos taken two years ago of Chinese tourists chasing penguins around to take photos in total disregard of conservation staff trying to stop them. The photos recently went viral again.

The job of the conservation staff is to enforce — or at least try to enforce — the Antarctic Environmental Protection Ordinance, which specifies that visitors keep quiet and refrain from touching any wildlife or flora there. Also, visitors must keep a distance of at least five meters from any penguin — even if it means having to settle for a less interesting photo.

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