Polar tourism includes all leisure travel products set in the Antarctic and Arctic regions. As such, it is conditioned by an interest for nature in extreme settings (polar desert, cold climate, harsh travel conditions – when by sea. The Arctic adds an additional interest for indigenous cultures. Trying to met those tourism interests, a specialized cruise tourism branch developed in the late 1980s (thu sporadic cruises were held back from the XIXth century onward) providing exclusive access the most difficult and far distant latitudes of the High Arctic and opposite Antarctic coastline. In any form of tourism, operators must protect the resources their economic activities rest upon as any deterioration they suffer will sooner or later impact the experiente and its viability. Hence a paradox: how to protect the ecological (and cultural) integrity of these features for sustained competitiveness? Since its emergence, as an industry some 40 years ago, the polar cruising has followed trends in environmental and social management, referring in their marketing and travel policies to both eco- and sustainable tourism. Serving the wealthy customers, initially the well traveled elderly, the ship-based polar industry kept a simple programme of lecture and soft-oriented activities, namely inflatable cruising in icy bays and close-to-shore trekking. Yet, with an increasing clientele of younger middle-age tourists, operators have also diversified their excursion products to offer more sportive-oriented activities off-ship. As long as these activities were non-fuel based, the operators enforced their ecological management claims. But with more fuel-based activities (helicopter, Zodiac sightseeing), and therefore a more invasive approach to the sensitive ecosystems visited, can this industry continue to claim to be sustainable? Based on the sustainable claims made by two important polar cruise operators, this study ams to underlines that while the polar cruise industry, as a whole, might seek to improve its ecological footprint, there remains many contradiction between their will to be environmental and the desire to conquer the environment.
Part of the book: Tourism