Chinese media are celebrating after the first-ever commercial flight to Antarctica, operated by Deer Jet, successfully landed on Saturday night, a move that signals a “new era” of tapping the possible future potential of South Pole tourism.
According to a statement Deer Jet, HNA Group’s corporate flight subsidiary, sent to Global Times, the flight carried 22 Chinese passengers from Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on Thursday to Cape Town, South Africa, to refuel after a 15-hour flight. The plane took off again for another 5.5-hour flight to an airport in Antarctica.
After resting, the crew and passengers boarded a DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft, which took them to the South Pole with the flight lasting five to six hours. The Chinese tourist group became the first people to land at Earth’s southernmost point, the statement claimed.
“Prior to the launch of the new flight, China had not developed any tourism resources, nor had it participated in any form of rule-making in Antarctic tourism,” a senior executive from HNA Group told the publication over the weekend, hailing the launch of the route as a “milestone.”
According to the BBC, while most of the trip was operated by Deer Jet, its last leg from Cape Town to Antarctica was organized by White Desert, a tour operator that offers trips to the South Pole, making it a cooperation between a Chinese tour organizer and an established operator in the region.
As exciting as the news is to some people, scholars and researchers are a worried that it will affect the natural resources of Antarctica.
“The commercial flight once again proves that China is gradually shifting from a big country doing activities in the region to a strong one. However, protection comes before utilization. We need to shoulder our obligation to protect the natural resources in Antarctica as a consultative country of the Antarctic Treaty, even though the first flight has much significance in pioneering for the country,“ said Dong Yue, a research fellow at the Polar Research Institute of the Ocean University of China.
Environmentalists also worry that the tourism could have a huge impact in the ecosystem of the area since tourists tend to leave trash when going on a trip.
Executive dean of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies affiliated to the Renmin University of China, Wang Wen, believes that the trip will help lift the country’s influence as a rising power that will help govern the South Pole.
Wang, who was part of the group who flew to Antarctica over the weekend, also stated that in doing so, China will be “promoting the region’s technological cooperation, environmental protection and compliance with international laws.”
Chinese tourists traveling to Antarctica have exploded in recent years. Shanghaiist reported that the number of travelers increased significantly from less than 100 in 2008 to nearly 4,000 in 2016. Some come to enjoy the cold view, while others go to Antarctica to take wedding photos.
Many international travel agencies have targeted wealthy Chinese tourists looking for an extremely different itinerary for their trip. Some even fork out hundreds of thousands of money to travel, ranging between 100,000 yuan ($15,170) to 500,000 yuan ($75,850).
Featured Image Shanghaiist via Medium