16 Jun 2012
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.