There was a time, not so long ago, when travelling to the Poles was the harsh experience of the adventurer or the exotic privilege of a few well-placed researchers and bureaucrats. Today, Antarctica and its High-Arctic, counterpart has become more easily accessible. Yet, they remain outside the imaginary of a majority of travel consumers. The polar regions fascinate and crystallise this age's infatuation for the, green outdoors.' A number of holiday-makers, nowadays, claim the right to visit environments of outstanding beauty, often at high costs. Indeed, the most remote wildernesses of the planet are increasingly becoming magnets for nature lovers as well as for small and big adventurers who claim to reach the ends of the geographical world to establish a reconnection with nature.
Taking the case of ship-based polar tourism, this study examines the relationship between people and nature. It investigates the motivations of the tourists of the geographical extremes by looking at who they are and what drives them to venture thousands of kilometres from the safety and comfort of their homes to experience what appears to be a (limited) world of ice and snow. This thesis argues that the people's interest for nature has little to do with their love for nature. Conversely, this study argues that nature and wilderness are rather used as a medium in the search for a degree of, authenticity,' and perhaps even spirituality, in the face of the alienation which results from an extreme degree of modernity. As such, nature and wilderness rather symbolise the search for a temporary relief from the modern world we live. Along the way, the study illustrates how the popular concepts of nature and wilderness are constructed and their impact on the representativeness of the Arctic and Antarctic in the cultural imaginary. Transformed and codified into places of travel consumption, the last wildernesses, and the polar regions especially, become playgrounds where one travels to acquire cultural and social capital, through the performance of a rite of passage. Through a qualitative approach, using field observations and interviews with tourists encountered on ships cruising in the Russian and Canadian Arctic, in Northern Finland and in the Antarctic, this study is an attempt to understand the Nature of Nature Tourism.
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