“As rising numbers of Chinese travel to Antarctica,” commented Dai Bin, director of the China Tourism Academy, “the Chinese government should issue regulations to help protect its sensitive and unique environment.” The lack of regulations reflects the unexpected and sudden popularity of so-called “wedding cruises” and although the government introduced a sweeping Tourism Law just last year, its provisions do not specify penalties and are more of a guideline to preferred behavior – Antarctica isn’t even mentioned.
There wouldn’t be obvious problems if the weeding guests would confine themselves to the stations’ small gift shops (above) but as freelance travel writer Zhang Yifan observed, “Anyone would get excited seeing wild penguins in their native Antarctic habitat. I didn’t see anyone throwing rubbish or spitting.” Zhang, who was one of about 200 Chinese tourists who visited Antarctica during the Lunar New Year holiday tour last year, noted “The only problem was that sometimes tourists got a bit closer to photograph animals than the tour guide had advised them.”
In their defense, unless you’re a researcher there’s not a whole lot to do in Antarctica besides photographing the wildlife though the sight of a dozen camera-clicking tourists competing for the attention of two plainly perplexed penguins is rather unseemly to say the least. Add to the boredom factor the fact that a two-week excursion to Antarctica aboard a Chinese ship like the 128-passenger MV Xue Long will run wedding guests between 100,000 yuan and 500,000 yuan – roughly $40,000 on average. The attitude seems to be, “I paid my money and the penguins take their chances.”
“It’s understandable that we all admire rare animals,” concludes Dai Bin, “but Antarctica is not a campus.” As this comes from the current director of the China Tourism Academy we can all hold out hope the in-place tourist advisories will be given some teeth as soon as possible. In the meantime, unfortunately, traditional tourists looking forward to witnessing the march of the penguins in person could find themselves watching a wedding march instead.