Sophie Michelle

 Growing market for extreme luxury tourism

Sophie Michelle

 Growing market for extreme luxury tourism

Seeing the Titanic at a depth of 3,800 metres, climbing Everest and K2 during a holiday, racing in the desert or travelling into space are some of the examples of extreme luxury tourism that is no longer limited to explorers or athletes. A few years ago only those who trained on a daily basis were dedicated to this; today these activities are becoming more popular for certain audiences.

Extreme luxury tourism has traits of eccentricity and exhibitionism. It emerged as a result of the democratisation of tourism, the rise of low-cost tourism and the massification of tourism, which pushed this eccentric tourism to become relevant for people with high purchasing power who want to live experiences that only a few people in the world can enjoy.

The interest in this type of activities or practices of extreme luxury tourism comes from their exclusivity, they are eccentric and, in many cases, they get the adrenaline pumping and are framed in an environment of people with very high economic power who practically compete among themselves, such as Jeff Bezos or other multimillionaires.

For some people, there are internal and external reasons that lead someone to try an extreme practice without technical background. Boredom or vital demotivation that is compensated with extreme emotional experiences, the need for self-improvement and emotional anaesthesia would be the internal motivations, being the need for social recognition, the will to demonstrate power, daring, or that one lives a "credible" interesting life to stand out.

At the time, it was safaris or more exotic destinations. Once these destinations were democratised, extreme luxury travel has become so. These are practices that are not very accessible to the general population, based on extreme activities. For example, going to remote places such as the South Pole, making great summits in a short time, being abandoned on remote islands or in the jungle to practice extreme survival or space travel. This business was worth close to 4 billion a year in 2013, according to Forbes.

Today, around 90% of the mountaineers who tackle Everest are clients of guided expeditions, many of them without a minimum of mountaineering competence, according to National Geographic. The price to climb Everest ranges from $45,000 to $200,000, depending on the services you want; some have heating, helicopters or a cook. The same is true of Antarctica. In 1996 the number of tourists was around 7,000; in 2020 the figure reached 74,000. It is estimated that by 2023 it could reach 100,000, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO).

However, some activities bring with them environmentally damaging problems. This tourism is also an environmental problem. There are striking images of long queues of climbers waiting for hours to climb to the top of Everest or waiting at the different bases, with the corresponding ecological footprint, waste, rubbish, etc., that their stay in an unsuitable place entails. There are certain extreme tourism practices that have become widespread, such as climbing Everest, which do not take into consideration the collateral effects of their activity, the harmful effects or the externalities of these practices, as they generate situations of unsustainability.

A study published by Nature magazine stated that each person who visits Antarctica causes the disappearance of 83 metric tons of snow due to the emissions of the transport used to get there,

SpaceX is considering sending Japanese billionaire and fashion mogul Yusaku Maezawa into the first-ever private lunar orbit, and other companies, such as Virgin Galactic, are offering $450,000 seats for a ninety-minute suborbital microgravity flight.

The limits of extreme and luxury tourism do not seem to exist. There is a growing market for these extreme and experience-seeking tourists, aimed at multi-millionaires. But, after what happened with the Titan and other experiences, what they are looking for is safety and what is increasing is that, that the practice is extreme, but the safety is high so that, in case that extreme is exceeded and there is danger for the client, the possibility of rescue is real and quick, but without lacking a certain degree of drama.

The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.

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