China's rich flock to poles for adventure travel
After ticking France, Italy, Britain and 24 other countries off her travel list, Chinese tourist Ma Bo selected a luxury cruise to the South Pole for her latest jaunt, where bouts of penguin-spotting were punctuated by steak dinners and afternoon workouts in an on-board gym.
Wealthy Chinese tourists are heading to riskier destinations in search of adventure, and demanding a high-level of comfort when they do. "The waves were huge, but the boat remained stable, and we had five-star service," said the 43-year-old freelancer, who spent Rmb150,000 ($22,0000) on the December trip.
China this year overtook Australia as the second largest source of travellers to Antarctica, accounting for 12 per cent of some 46,000 total visitors, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators. US tourists accounted for one-third.
Interest in polar trips among China's wealthy travellers has jumped in recent years, with more than one-third planning such a vacation, according to a survey of several hundred Chinese with an average net worth of Rmb22m published this month by the Hurun Report and International Luxury Travel Market Asia.
Those surveyed had on average visited 10 foreign countries already, reducing the allure of European capitals. "It's no longer enough to go to the Eiffel Tower again. There's not much to say about it the second time," said Rupert Hoogewerf, Hurun founder.
Graphic designer Gemmy Zang, 36, exemplifies the trend. "I like to travel to places where there aren't many tourists," said the freelance designer, who paid Rmb180,000 for an Antarctic cruise in 2014. "I expected it would be tough, but it wasn't tough at all," she added.
Guo Ming, chief operations officer for HH Travel, the high-end arm of Chinese travel agency Ctrip, attributed a "rapid growth" in demand for polar trips to a rising taste for adventure among wealthy travellers. "Travel products with light challenges are what high-end travellers like the most," he said.
The company profiles the average Chinese polar tourist as an executive and member of the "wealthy class", aged 35-50, who spends Rmb250,000 on a trip.
HH Travel plans to expand its Antarctic offerings. "For instance, we can organise marathons, photography, and even hold weddings for people at the South Pole," Mr Guo said.
Chinese tours usually take place in the Antarctic summer from November to March, with time-conscious travellers skipping the cruise and flying directly. Some tours involve visits to Chinese polar research bases, such as the Great Wall Station, built in 1985.
中国的南极游通常发生在11月份到3月份的南极夏季，比较看重时间的游客会舍游轮不坐而直接飞过去。部分旅游项目还包括了对中国极地研究基地的访问，比如建于1985年的南极长城站（Great Wall Station）。
The tourism surge comes as Beijing seeks "polar power" status and increased influence at both poles. China does not have territorial claims but is constructing its fifth Antarctic station and plans an airfield there. Last month representatives from more than 40 countries attended an Antarctic Treaty meeting in Beijing.
Ms Ma's December trip has whetted her appetite for the globe's extremities, and she plans a trip to the North Pole this year, citing a Chinese saying. "As people say, life has two poles."