Until quite recently, Antarctica was considered to be almost unreachable. However, over the last 20 years things have changed dramatically to the point where over 35,000 tourists visited the White Continent in 2015!
Now in 2016, experts are predicting a rise of 14% with more than 42,000 tourists to visit Antarctica in the next season and this number is only predicted to rise. Of those 40,000 visitors, 10,000 are expected to go ashore. But can the landscape cope?
Whilst the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) does its best to regulate and manage Antarctic operators, many slip under the radar and avoid clear guidelines. This has led many people to speculate that Antarctica tourism should be stopped period!
“To keep some places on earth out of bounds for tourism will often simply obscure challenges. Tourists can be witnesses to the ongoing changes in the Antarctic waters caused by climate change – to see and learn for themselves, and to further help raise awareness when they get home. It is a good thing.” says Daniel Skjeldam, CEO of Hurtigruten.
Whilst the general census is to continue, there is a call out for more stringent regulations and possibly even laws. Claire Christian, acting executive director, states that “Tourism is currently well managed, but the status quo may not last forever. IAATO’s rules are not mandatory and no one has to join it, after all.”
The environment and the wildlife that inhabit the area are most people’s number one priority and as long as this continues, experts say there is little risk.
As Steven Chown, a professor from Monash University in Australia says “It needs to continue to be managed the way it is, which is well,” he adds. “If it got out of control, it would be a problem, but that actually goes for all activity in the Antarctic. If you just had rampant science everywhere – stacks and stacks of stations – and no one paying attention to the environment, you’d end up with problems too.”
Whatever the future of Antarctica tourism holds, the one good thing is that operators rely upon the sell-factor that the region is an ‘untouched wilderness’. If this were to change from rogue operators, the region would fast get a new reputation! “People want to visit Antarctica because it is a pristine environment,” states Amanda Lynnes, IAATO’s environmental and communications officer. “We don’t want to have them visiting part of it and another ship to be waiting in the distance for them to leave.”
Luckily for now, there are currently no large Antarctic operators that do not adhere to IAATO. Long may this continue.