Antarctica Saw More Visitors In 2012

Earlier this week, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) concluded their 24th annual meeting in Punta Arenas, Chile. Topics at the gathering included strategic planning for sustainable tourism in the Antarctic, methods of safe travel that can help protect the fragile ecosystem there and ways of enticing more travel companies to join the Association. During the conference, the IAATO also released its final tourism numbers for the 2012-2013 Antarctic travel season that has recently ended. Those numbers were up sharply over the previous year, indicating that there is still a strong interest amongst travelers to visit the frozen continent.

According to the IAATO, there were 34,316 visitors to the Antarctic last year – up from 26,519 during the 2011-2012 season. The organization noted that much of the growth came as a result of an increase of passengers on small- and medium-sized vessels over previous years as well as a jump in the number of travelers electing a cruise-only option. On those types of trips the visitors never actually step foot on the continent of Antarctica at all, but simply stay aboard their ship the entire time as it cruises about the Southern Ocean.

Looking ahead to next season, the IAATO doesn’t believe it will see nearly as large of an increase in the number of visitors as it did this year. Growth is predicted to be modest at best with most of the gains continuing to come from the cruise-only category. It seems that while interest amongst travelers for visiting the Antarctic is high, most would prefer to just see it from a distance.

Visitors who make the journey to the bottom of the world do seem to have some concerns about the impact of travel on the environment there, however. The IAATO revealed that more than $200,000 was directly contributed to various Antarctic charities by travelers who visited that part of the world with its member companies. That brought the total to more than $2.7 million over the past nine years.

Antarctic Tourism Expected To Increase In 2012-2013

The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) is predicting an increase in Antarctic tourism this year as adventurous travelers begin to return to the frozen continent in larger numbers. If that prediction holds true it will be the first time in four years that Antarctica will see an increase in visitors, which is good news for travel companies that operate in the region but could spell an end to the fantastic discounts that we’ve enjoyed over the past few years.

The IAATO says that during the 2011-2012 season, which ended in April, its members carried 26,519 passengers to Antarctica. This year it is predicting that the number of travelers will increase to 34,950, which is still well below the record high of 46,265 visitors set during the 2007-2008 season. The following year marked the start of the global economic downturn from which many countries are still struggling to recover. Additionally, a 2010 ban on ships that use heavy fuel oils has helped to reduce capacity to the Southern Ocean as well. Both of those factors are believed to have contributed to the sharp decline.

While the number of visitors to the Antarctic has steadily dropped over the past three years, travelers have been able to take advantage of the situation and visit the continent at bargain prices. A number of high-profile tour operators have offered substantial discounts, and even “two for one” specials, to help fill their cruise ships. Now that demand appears to be on the rise again, those of us who have always wanted to visit the Antarctic may have missed our opportunity. Alternatively, if you do come across a good discount for the 2012-2013 season, you just may want to grab it.

[Photo courtesy of the IAATO]