Antarctic tourism drops in 2010

The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) announced yesterday that the number of travelers visiting Antarctica actually dropped during the 2010-2011 tourism season – a trend that they expect to continue into the 2011-2012 season as well.

During the 2010-2011 Antarctic season, the total number of travelers on IAATO member-operated vessels was listed as 33,824, which is down 8.3% from last year, when 36,875 people visited the frozen continent or the waters off its shores. These figures represent the number of people who traveled through the region on small and medium sized expedition ships, and yachts, as well as large cruise ships. A little more than half of those visitors (18,534 to be exact) actually went ashore on the Antarctic continent itself, while the others merely cruised the Southern Ocean.

The 2011-2012 season looks to have even more significant drops in the number of visitors to Antarctica. This August a ban on the use of heavy fuel oils on ships traveling through the Southern Ocean will go into effect, preventing some of the larger cruise ships from entering those waters. That ban, which is being instituted by the International Maritime Organization, is designed to protect the fragile Antarctic environments, but it will also have an impact on the number of travelers who visit the area as well. The IAATO predicts that cruse-only passengers will drop from 14,737 in 2010 to less than 5000 this year. Factor in an economy that remains sluggish, and tourism in Antarctica is projected to drop an astounding 25% year-over-year.

The IAATO is an organization that is made up travel companies that operate in and around the Antarctic continent. The organization’s main goal is to support safe, sustainable tourism operations in that region. It’s more than 100 members have worked closely with one another to develop guidelines and standards that ensure their clients can travel in the Antarctic in a safe manner that is also environmentally responsible.

What does all of this mean for you and me? Expect fewer opportunities to cruise the Southern Ocean, at least in the near future, as the number of large cruise ships operating in the area is expected to drop to just five vessels. But it could also mean substantial discounts for trips to Antarctica as well, as tour operators scramble to fill cabins on their smaller ships in the season ahead. If you’ve ever wanted to go to Antarctica, this just may be the time to book that trip.