Submarine dives and flights into space: off-road trips only available to the rich | International

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The world for some tourists does not end on the surface of the Earth. Trips to space and to the depths of the oceans are a minority trend, but on the rise in so-called elite tourism. They are reserved for the few who can afford them —the prices for this type of adventure can range from 50,000 to more than 50 million euros— and who, furthermore, are willing to accept some risks, as evidenced by the disappearance of the last Sunday of a submarine that was taking four tourists to explore the remains of the titanic 3,800 meters below the Atlantic. These are trips that are at the top of exclusivity in the growing experiential tourism, where sensations prevail and which is becoming more and more fashionable.

Observe first-hand the remains of the emblematic titanic It costs $250,000 (about 229,000 euros), according to OceanGate, the company that markets it. The trip lasts seven days, but the key moment is the immersion: it takes about eight hours (two and a half hours down, three hours on the seabed and another two and a half hours up). As the company promotes on its website, the trip in its carbon fiber submersible, with space for five people, is "an opportunity to get out of everyday life and discover something truly extraordinary."

The discovery of the remains of the titanic in 1985, more than 600 kilometers off the coast of Newfoundland (Canada), it has attracted historians, archaeologists and the curious to the area. The possibility, thanks to technology, of navigating at shallow depths with a small submarine aroused the interest of tourists, and the company OceanGate, which also does dives to see other sunken ships, began offering this package in 2021. “Call the attention that the titanic continue to fascinate and create so much mystery”, says José Serrano, a professor at the European University of the Canary Islands and an expert in tourism. The traveler seeks experiences, not only for adventure or personal challenge, "but also to achieve a goal and brag about it, show what he has achieved," he adds. From there, he depends on the budget: "The trip is a basic in which ordinary mortals can choose between one or another alternative and those who have a lot of money enjoy an increasingly unlimited catalog," he adds.

In this market of experiences, underwater tourism emerges as a new category. One of the projects presented in recent years has been Proteus, an underwater version of the International Space Station devised by the French oceanographer Fabien Cousteau, grandson of the popularizer Jacques Cousteau. Its objective is that it is dedicated to the investigation of the bottom of the sea, but there could also be visits. Although there are no official rates, it is estimated that the starting price of a stay (between seven days and three months) could be around 50,000 euros.

Space travels

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These rates are not within the reach of everyone, but they are not even remotely comparable to what some millionaires pay to visit space. One of the best-known cases is that of Oliver Daemen, a Dutch student who, at just 18 years old, became the youngest person in history to travel to space in July 2021. He flew alongside Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on the spacecraft's first manned flight New Shepard, from the Blue Origin company. His father paid an undisclosed amount for his son to experience weightlessness and gaze at Earth's curved horizon for a few minutes. Oliver Daemen replaced an anonymous billionaire who bought the ticket for $28 million at a charity auction and resigned citing scheduling problems.

Young Oliver Daemen and aviator Wally Funk float with millionaire Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark on Blue Origin's 'New Shepard' ship in July 2021.BLUE ORIGIN (Reuters)

A few months later, also in 2021, Russia launched Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant Yozo Hirano to the International Space Station, in a trip that marked Moscow's return to the orbital tourism market for the first time in 12 years. I think in a few years [los vuelos espaciales] They will be more accessible. Our task now is to prove that all obstacles can be overcome,” Maezawa explained before the flight.

Many companies are waging a war to see who gets the biggest piece of the pie in this new market, mostly in an experimental phase. World View is the most affordable: $50,000 for a balloon flight through the stratosphere. Virgin Galactic, owned by millionaire Richard Branson, announced a few days ago that it will begin commercial operations in a few weeks, after 19 years of tests, accidents and technical challenges. The trips cost between $450,000 and $600,000. On the waiting list to get on the ship there is at least one Spaniard, Ana Bru, founder of the exclusive Bru&Bru agency, the only one authorized in Spain to book Virgin Galactic suborbital flights and who has bought the ticket for a long time.

Blue Origin, founded by Bezos, began its commercial activity in 2021, but had to suspend launches in September after making seven flights, after a failure in a rocket in which no passengers were traveling.

But it is Elon Musk's Space X, which has the most expensive prices on the market: his first private charter flight left Earth in 2021 for the International Space Station. Each of the three travelers paid 55 million dollars (more than 50 million euros) for the rocket ride and accommodation, with all meals included.

“Experience tourism sells, in many cases, authenticity, something unique or local; it can be for people with more or less budget, and a part is for an elite. It is a growing trend, although I believe that it has not yet developed as much as expected”, says Pablo Díaz, professor of Economics and Business Studies at the Universitat Oberta Catalunya (UOC). Díaz gives the example of helicopter tours to get to know Andalusian gastronomy, for example, or people who reserve a room to stay in an old prison. It is a new form of disconnection. "The motivation for the trip has been changing," adds Serrano. “Since travel was democratized, there is an issue of status, of differentiating yourself from what the majority does,” he concludes.

People with a high budget are not satisfied with picking up a travel guide and choosing a couple of routes. They look for unique experiences and chosen by specialists who know the latest trends. The richest, before starting their holidays, can pay tens of thousands of euros for someone to draw up a luxurious travel plan, which can include harsh excursions in a desert to end up in an oasis of refrigerated luxury. From there there are possibilities for all budgets. An expedition to Everest, for example, can cost between 80,000 and 100,000 euros for someone who does not have to be a professional climber, but receives all the help they need during the expedition.

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