The latest wave of elite expeditions is shifting luxury travel standards from sumptuous to scientific.
With ecotourism on the rise, companies are increasingly offering new ways to mitigate tourism’s negative environmental impact. The newest luxury offerings take this one step further, offering travelers the chance to explore remote environments and conduct ecological research for deeper understanding into endangered climates.
Trading cushy accommodations for harsh conditions in remote locations, the next class of luxury travelers are opting to invest in arduous research and conservation efforts over lavish leisure and indulgent pampering.
Airbnb’s Antarctic Sabbatical program, announced in September 2019, introduces a new echelon of elite tourism. The scientific research mission offers five intrepid travelers an opportunity to conduct research in Antarctica alongside environmental scientist Kirstie Jones-Williams. “This expedition will be hard work, with scientific rigor required during unforgiving wintery conditions,” said Jones-Williams in a press release. “We are looking for passionate individuals, with a sense of global citizenship, who are excited to be a part of the team and to return home and share our findings with the world.”
Before landing on the South Pole, travelers will spend two weeks in Punta Arenas, Chile, training as volunteer scientists and taking classes in glaciology, field sampling, lab work and equipment practice. After completing the training, participants will fly to Antarctica to collect and analyze snow samples in an effort to understand the impact of microplastics on the arctic environment. “Most people think of Antarctica as a pristine and isolated continent, but recent evidence shows that even the most remote locations are affected by plastic pollution,” Jones-Williams said. “This expedition will help us understand the pathways of microplastics to remote regions such as Antarctica and comes at a critical time to highlight our responsibility to protect our natural world.”
On the other side of the globe, Luxury Action is offering travelers the chance to explore the North Pole—“one of the most exclusive travel destinations on Earth,” according to Luxury Action founder Janne Honkanen. Billed as the word’s northernmost hotel, travelers only have one month to visit due to the locale’s inhospitable climate during the majority of the year. In April 2020, those who can afford the $100,000+ price tag will stay in heated igloos accompanied by arctic wilderness guides and private security teams. “I thought that this is the time and the opportunity to give a chance for my guests to experience the North Pole with arctic explorers and scientists in a safe way,” said Honkanen.
Exxpedition invites women to set sail and study ocean plastic pollution on a “floating research lab.” The latest mission, Round the World, is Exxpedition’s largest voyage since launching in 2014; from 2019-2021, 300 women will travel a collective total of 38,000 nautical miles through four ocean gyres (large systems of circular ocean currents) and the Antarctic. The crew is made up of multinational and multidisciplinary teams of women, ranging from businesswomen to artists to teachers.To ensure scientific rigor, Exxpedition is partnering with the University of Plymouth “to develop a science program that will give us a clearer picture of the impact of plastics and toxics around the world,” Penn said. “It’s a unique opportunity to collect global data.”
The ocean voyages range from a $6,000 to $13,000 investment and require physical and intellectual dedication. “Our voyages are definitely not holidays,” Penn warned. “All our crew members are expected to take part in every aspect of life on board, including sailing, cooking, cleaning, night watches, science on board and workshops.”
In the age of the conscious consumer, exclusive expeditions that not only do no environmental harm but contribute learnings to the scientific community are the latest luxury. The value of modern travel is measured by impact, as these trips make clear. “Our goal at this juncture is to better understand how travel can be a positive catalyst for change,” an Airbnb spokesperson told Vice. Honkanen concurred: “All our guests who have been travelling with us are concerned by the climate crisis. I believe they are also the best messengers for us in order to spread word of how climate change affects our lives.”
Main image courtesy of Luxury Action