A Japanese travel agency has been forced to cancel a tour to Antarctica after protests from researchers that its advertisements are misleading and the trip could endanger the lives of the tourists.
Club Tourism was seeking applicants for the 14-day tour in December, when Antarctica is in summer, and was to have used a charter flight from South Africa to reach the frozen continent.
On the sixth day of the tour, the group had planned to visit Syowa Station, Japan's Antarctic outpost, for about three hours.
The price was a cool 6.5 million yen ($78,400).
Club Tourism held a meeting on March 25 in Tokyo’s Shinjuku to explain details of the Antarctica tour. The company’s website on March 10 featured an advertisement for the trip, and it also created pamphlets.
"You will be able to enjoy a visit to Syowa Station as well as observe the penguins that are in the area," the advertisement says.
The National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR), which dispatches exploration teams to Syowa Station, described the tour plan as "reckless."
"It is not possible to observe penguins near the station," said Yoichi Motoyoshi, who heads the Antarctic Operation Center at NIPR. "We are troubled by the fact that they used photos of the station without permission."
About 30,000 tourists visit Antarctica in the summer, mainly departing by ship from South America. However, Syowa Station is about 4,000 kilometers from the landing spot for those tourists.
Motoyoshi said of Syowa Station, "It is dangerous because it has the worst accessibility in Antarctica."
There is no runway on the island where the station is located. When exploration teams use airplanes, they land on the continent about 20 kilometers away across the ocean on a runway that must be prepared beforehand. A helicopter is used to travel from the runway to Syowa Station.
Since February, NIPR officials had sent two letters to Tokyo-based Condor Travel Japan Co., which actually planned the tour, saying there were grave dangers to the plan.
But the advertisement for the tour later appeared, prompting NIPR officials to call and protest on March 26.
Masao Egi, who heads Condor Travel Japan, said, "We were told by a local company that flies planes from South Africa that a landing can be made without assistance from Syowa Station."
The plan appeared to call for landing on sea ice near the station.
However, Motoyoshi said that plan carries an enormous risk.
"Because sea ice is at its thinnest and there are icebergs, the plan is too dangerous and could be life-threatening," he said.
A Club Tourism official said, "A number of our customers said they wanted to visit Syowa Station, so we wanted to bring it off if possible."
However, on April 4 the agency decided to cancel the tour, citing the concerns raised by NIPR.
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