Antarctic Tourism Down

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators or IAATO is reporting that the number of tourists visiting Antarctica dropped dramatically in 2008 according to a report from Outside Online. According to the preliminary numbers from 2008, 36,000 people visited the frozen continent, that’s down from the record high of 46,000 the year before.

The reason for the sharp drop? Like all things right now, the global recession is being blamed for the down turn, and 2009 is expected to remain slow. The IAATO predicts that the numbers will begin to rebound in 2010, but probably won’t flirt with those record numbers again until at least 2011 or 2012.

The down turn in visitors to Antarctica is likely to be hailed as good news by environmentalists, who have been issuing dire warnings the past few years on the impact that travel in the area would have on the fragile climate there. Some have called for putting caps on the number of visitors to the region to help protect the penguine and seal populations, while others cite the near disasterous accidents involving cruise ships over the past couple of years as reasons why there should be limits to travel in the area.

A spokesman for the IAATO stresses that the continent is massive in size, larger than Australia, and gets relatively few visitors each year, saying that the number of tourists “would fill a football stadium”. The organization also stresses that the travel companies chartered to operate in the area are committed to protecting the environment and protecting their clients.

It’s doubtful that we’ll ever see limits placed on the number of visitors to Antarctica, but thanks to the recession, it looks like there will be natural limits in place.