The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) has announced that 38,478 visitors traveled to Antarctica with IAATO members during the 2015-2016 season. That is a 4.6 percent increase over the previous season.

Estimates released for next season, 2016-2017, indicate that growth will continue with 43,885 visitors expected, still less than the peak of 46,265 during the 2007-2008 austral summer.

Visiting the coastal regions of Antarctica is the most popular form of tourism with only 1.1% of visitors travelling inland to the Antarctic interior in 2015-2016, comparable with previous years.

Most (98.9%) seaborne passengers travelled to the Antarctic Peninsula with 21.3% of these on ‘cruise only’ vessels that do not make landings. The remainder visited the Peninsula on vessels carrying fewer than 500 passengers, which make landings. Of these visitors, 72.5%sailed and 6% flew from South America. In the case of the latter, passengers land on the Peninsula and immediately board a ship. This sector showed the most growth compared to the previous season, increasing by 37.5%. Overall, seaborne tourism with landings grew by 10.5% since the 2014-2015 season, a trend that is expected to continue next year.

American and Australian visitors remained the most numerous, accounting for 35.5% and 11% of the total number respectively, similar to last year. China moved up to third place, accounting for 10.6% of the total, increasing by 25.7% since the previous season. British (8.4%), German (7.4%) and Canadian (4.8%) visitors were the next most abundant nationalities in Antarctica in 2015-2016.

Tourism growth management is a topic for discussion at IAATO’s annual meeting in Newport, which in 2016 celebrates 25 years of promoting the practice of safe and environmentally responsible private sector travel to the Antarctic.

Dr. Kim Crosbie, IAATO Executive Director, said in a prepared statement: “2016 is a special year for IAATO. The last 25 years have shown that with careful management it is possible for visitors to experience Antarctica without having an adverse impact on the environment. However, the appetite to visit Antarctica is clearly still strong so IAATO must build on the foundations laid down in the past to meet future challenges and opportunities in order to support the long-term conservation of Antarctica.”