With the formal end of the tourism season in the Antarctic, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) has released its final numbers for 2010-11. The total number of visitors to the region traveling with IAATO member-operators was 33,824.
This includes those traveling on traditional expedition ships, yachts, larger cruise-only vessels as well visitors participating in land programs. The overall seasonal results reflect a decrease of 8.3 percent from last year's total of 36,875 passengers.
In reviewing the numbers by category, traditional small and medium-size expedition ships – which carry 500 or fewer passengers and conduct landings – accounted for 18,534 passengers, a decline of nearly 13% from the previous season in this category.
There were a total of 14,373 passengers in the cruise-only category – those vessels that carry more than 500 passengers and only travel through the area without disembarking their guests ashore in Antarctica. This represented a decline of just over 4%.
A much smaller air-sea category that includes a combination of air transportation to Antarctica and small-ship cruising tallied at 531 visitors.
Land tourism accounted for an additional 386 visitors during the 2010-11 season. While the overall number of participants increased this past season for both the air-sea and land tourism categories, the numbers remain comparatively very low.
More than 100 different nationalities were represented during this past season, including citizens from every one of the Consultative Treaty Parties. Of those, the majority (77%) came from 10 different countries, with the US (37%), Australia (10%), UK (8%), Germany (7%) and Japan, the Netherlands and China (each at 3%) topping the list.
With a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) imposed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) set to take place this August, IAATO projects a significant decrease in the cruise-only category from 14,373 passengers to less than 5,000 for the 2011-12 season. As a result, the number of voyages by 500-plus passenger vessels is expected to decrease from 12 this past season to just five in 2011-12.
Because of this and the lingering effects of the slow economy, the overall number of visitors traveling with IAATO operators next season is projected at 25,319, a 25 percent decline from the season just ended.
"Antarctic tourism numbers have been trending downward since the 2007-08 season," noted Steve Wellmeier, Executive Director of IAATO. "The decline to date has largely been the result of the effects of the economic slowdown worldwide. While we expect this to continue playing a role, there is little question that the more significant factor in next year's lower numbers is the consequence of the HFO ban. The result will be visitor numbers overall that mirror those of a decade ago." Wellmeier adds that the priority for IAATO is to remain focused on its mission of safe and environmentally responsible travel and ensuring continued development and maintenance of best practice standards throughout the Antarctic tour operator community.