Antarctica tourism rose drastically in 2012, but will slow down this season
In this Dec. 1, 2009 photo provided by Aurora Expeditions, an inflatable boat carries tourists past an iceberg along the Antarctic Peninsula. In a remote, frozen, almost pristine land where the only human residents are involved in research, tourism comes with risks, for both the continent and the tourists. Aurora Expeditions, Andrew Halsall / Associated Press
The numbers from the tour operators association are bit self-serving: to show that even though these numbers are rising, they are spread out over a low-footprint category of carriers and activities, and hence responsible self-regulation rather than government intervention would do the trick.
Alarm bells have been going off in conservation circles for a few years now as tourism to Antarctica is on the rise, and 2012 numbers will surely give them more food for thought: according to latest numbers from International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), the total number of tourists traveling to Antarctica was 34,316, an increase from 26,519 during the 2011-2012 season, though that is a recovery from 2009-10
and 2010-11 when totals were 36,881 and 33,824 respectively.
The 2007-08 season was the best season, with 45,213 visitors to the continent, but these expensive tours went down dramatically after the economic recession hit.
Tourism estimates for next season, 2013-14 is expected to grow 3%, from 34,316 this past season to 35,354 across the various categories.
Among the reasons for the 2012 rise: a mild resurgence of voyages by cruise-only operators — where no landings ashore are offered — from five to seven, accounting for 9,070 passengers and approximately 5,000 more than the previous year.
Growth was also seen in tourism segment that includes traditional small and medium-size expedition ships and yachts — all carrying 500 or fewer passengers and conducting landings — from 20,271 to 23,305 passengers. Numbers increased in the air-cruise category, up from 860 during 2011-12 to 1,587 for the season just ended. Air-land tourism declined more than 30% from 516 to 354 visitors during the 2012-13 season.
IAATO of course has a horse in the race: to continue growing these numbers to build on the lucrative business, and it advocates for self-regulation instead of governments banning increased tourism in the very environmentally-fragile region. “Through self-regulation, Antarctic tourism is a sustainable, safe activity that causes no more than a minor or transitory impact on the environment and creates a corps of ambassadors for the continued protection of Antarctica.”
For more background on these numbers and the implications on tourism, read our earlier story: As tourism numbers rise in Antartica, conservation alarm bells go off