A21 History: Antarctica21 Enters the Chinese Market
Juan Cristóbal Del Pedregal, Antarctica21 Commercial Director, celebrates our cooperation and friendships with all our Chinese partners.
In 2023 Antarctica21 celebrates its 20th Anniversary. During our company’s 20th anniversary year, we want to celebrate our history with a review of the important milestones that have defined our journey. This is one of the notable moments in the company’s history. You can read more stories here.
Written by Juan Cristóbal Del Pedregal, Commercial Director
With the 2012-13 season, for the first time, Antarctica21 operated a complete Antarctic season, with 17 departures from November 2012 to March 2013. Never before had the company offered such volume. Although it was a success, it came with challenges for the commercial team and me – finding the adventurous travelers to fill all those departures. To achieve the objectives we had set, we knew we needed to expand our distribution network.
In addition to our efforts in North America, we began to focus on Asia, with a special emphasis on China, a place I was keen on going to and making connections. The Chinese outbound market was growing quickly, and we expected that there could be good opportunities for Antarctica21.
During our first visits to China, we encountered a vibrant industry that was trying to understand how to manage the enormous interest and curiosity of the Chinese public for the rest of the world. The market was very fragmented. At one end of the spectrum were enormous, highly structured travel companies with consolidated experience selling high-volume, mass-market travel packages to Asia, Europe, and North America. At the other end of the spectrum were ambitious entrepreneurs, sometimes without the capital or the knowledge needed to undertake the projects they envisioned. Between those extremes was a vast universe of brokers, associations, agents, and tour operators. With communication and cultural barriers, it was sometimes difficult to identify and evaluate opportunities correctly.
As we tried to make sense of it all, we benefited from the support of the Chilean tourism promotion authorities, Turismo Chile initially, and SERNATUR later on. Together with them and our colleagues in the Chilean tourism industry, we participated in countless promotional activities and road shows. By working together with LATAM Airlines and many excellent Chilean hotels and operators, we introduced Chile as an attractive travel destination for the Chinese public, a welcoming place of stunning natural beauty and, importantly for us, an Antarctic gateway.
The highly effective Beijing-based team at ProChile, Chile’s export development agency, was also very supportive. We participated in the famous Chile Week, a multi-event initiative where all the products of Chile are promoted, including tourism and the cultural industries. Antarctica21 was featured on Chinese national television and in countless publications. We also benefitted from the support of the diplomatic mission in Beijing. During a memorable event we organized at the Chilean Embassy, former Ambassador Jorge Heine joined us in welcoming over 60 travel professionals who came to learn about Chile and Antarctica.
Through all those activities, during many trips to Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Shanghai, we gradually developed strong and productive business relationships with specialty travel companies throughout China. Over time, we came to admire the industry’s dynamism and the focus and drive to succeed that we see in our Chinese partners.
Soon the network grew to the point of requiring direct, local management. We have been fortunate to attract Alex Liu to our team, a polar professional whose background includes a stint at China’s Great Wall Station in Antarctica. As Market Manager for Asia, Alex now oversees all our commercial activities in that part of the world and is responsible for a significant percentage of our annual revenue plan.
The Chinese travel market has evolved and matured since our first visits there. Chinese travelers can now access the same variety of offers available to consumers in Europe or North America. During the 2010-11 Antarctic season, only 3% of overall Antarctic travelers came from China. By the 2019-20 season, that number had grown to 15%, making China the second largest source market for Antarctic travelers following the US.
While doing business in China, we have made many personal friendships. Some of our partners have introduced us to their families and have treated us to spectacular meals. We celebrate our cooperation and friendships with all our Chinese partners, and we look forward to continuing to welcome their clients on our expeditions for many years to come.