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Arctic promotions go extreme
A tour group in the parking lot of Svalbardbutikken packs for a multi-day excursion on Svalbard. Officials said longer trips are losing popularity to non-motorized outings booked on short notice.

Feeling guilty you can afford an expensive vacation in a recession? Help save a endangered animal in the Arctic.

Tired of feeling guilty? Shoot it.

Polar tour operators are relying on unusual themes to lure people reluctant to take vacations while money is scarce. Even though tourism has grown so much in some regions that strict

limits are being enacted, plenty of extra incentives are showing up in brochures.
Those traveling to Svalbard can alleviate their guilt with a 12-day "biodiversity" voyage from Silversea Cruises starting from Longyearbyen on July 24. "Up to" 30 percent of fares goes to a foundation developing policies to limit the fleet's carbon footprint and provide science educators onboard.

A similar offering at the other end of the world is a two-week Philanthropic Journeys cruise to Antarctica by Abercrombie & Kent where travelers see penguin colonies, visit a working scientific station and help deliver equipment designed to measure the impact of global warming in the region.

Those tired of rants about climate change and saving the planet are flocking in growing numbers to the Canadian Arctic, where a minimum of $35,000 buys a two-week polar bear hunting expedition. It's an activity that may not be possible soon, as U.S.-led surveys indicate the world's polar bear population may decline by two-thirds by 2050.

Another vanishing opportunity is standing at the North Pole, since scientists predict most of the summer ice cover may vanish within 30 years. An article headlined "Tourism heats up at the North Pole" in the travel publication eTurboNews declares "while the worldwide travel industry is experiencing a slowdown, one destination has never been busier - the North Pole."

"With the centennial this year of the Robert F. Peary discovery of the North Pole, combined with the fear that global warming may soon change the arctic regions forever, it's a very busy year for us," Rick Sweitzer, founder of The Northwest Passage PolarExplorers, told the publication.

The Pole also continues to attract those seeking their own historic achievements. David Shannon, 46, of the Canadian city Thunder Bay, became the first quadriplegic to reach the Pole on an expedition originating in Longyearbyen earlier this year. But it's getting harder to impress people: the first comment in Toronto's main newspaper ridiculed Shannon for being "towed" there by his partner, after which the newspaper shut off further discussion. And some Longyearbyen residents are beginning to resent not just large crowds of tourists, but problems they bring such as theft.

Also, for polar tour operators these are turbulent times despite relatively favorable circumstances, both in terms of visitor numbers and governing policies.

Alaska braced for disaster following predictions of a 40 percent drop in tourism compared to a year ago, although cruise ship companies that carry most of those travelers say early season numbers haven't been that low. But some tour operators in the Interior and northern portions of the state say they are seeing drops of 50 percent or more in visitors so far.

Ralph Samuels, an executive with Holland America Line, told the Anchorage Daily News, the reduced cruise traffic results from "a perfect storm" of the economic recession, new cruise taxes and stricter regulations enacted several years ago. In recent months, he added, cruise lines have slashed fares 30 to 40 percent on Alaska voyages this summer.

Then there's the problem of too many visitors.

Tough new restrictions on cruise ships voyaging to Antarctica were approved last month by the 28 nations that signed the Antarctic Treaty. A record 46,000 tourists visited the continent during the 2007-2008 season, more than 20 times as many as 1983. The new limits prohibit ships with more than 500 passengers from landing anywhere and only 100 visitors are allowed on shore at a time, according to the British newspaper The Guardian.

The restrictions are also intended to prevent Titantic-like disasters. More than 150 people were rescued from a ship that sank and leaked oil in 2007. In March of this year more than 100 people were trapped on a ship that ran aground near an Argentinean naval base. Experts have documented six incidents during the past year that risked major contamination, the newspaper reports.

Additional restrictions will be considered this summer by the International Maritime Organization, including prohibiting carrying and burning heavy fuels. Such limits could cause numerous ships from companies small and large to abandon Antarctic because of the higher cost of light fuel, according to the industry publication Cruise Critic.


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