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Double-digit hike for Antarctica visitation in 2017/18

(Photo: IAATO)
The vast majority of visitors travel on ships that offer excursions ashore
The upward trend in tourists to Antarctica recorded since the 2011/12 season continued in 2017/18. The majority of visitors—41,996—traveled by sea on ships offering excursions ashore, a 16% increase from the prior season.

Total visitor count spiked 17%

In total, 51,707 tourists visited Antarctica in the 2017/18 season, a 17% spike from 44,367 in 2016/17, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators.

Of these, 3,408 flew to the South Shetland Islands on the Antarctic Peninsula where they immediately embarked a vessel for onward travel. This sector, known as air/cruise, increased 6% compared to the previous season. In addition, 9,131 visitors experienced Antarctica on one of four cruise-only vessels that did not make landings, an increase of 22% from 2016/17.

IAATO reported the latest visitor counts at the start of its annual meeting in Newport, Rhode Island. The association has been monitoring, analyzing and reporting trends since 1991 as part of its commitment to ‘leave only footprints’ through the effective self-management of its activities.

During the 2017/18 season, 580 visitors flew to field camps in Antarctica’s interior with IAATO land operators.

‘Antarctica receives relatively few visitors compared to other destinations. The number of tourists who set foot on the continent this past year (42,576) is less than half the number of spectators at the Super Bowl,' said Ponant's Terry Shaller, chair of the IAATO Executive Committee. 'We are, however, mindful that the unique qualities of Antarctica require stringent safeguards. Our proven success in responsible visitor management is the result of forward planning based on deep understanding of the industry. This helps us fine tune our strategies to protect the precious places we visit while enabling people to have an enriching wilderness experience.'

US visitors lead, followed by Chinese

Overall, US visitors remained the most numerous, accounting for 33% of the total number, the same proportion as the previous year. Chinese were the second most numerous, accounting for 16% of all visitors and increasing by 4 points compared to the 2016/17 season. Australians, Germans and Britons followed, accounting for 11%, 7% and 7%, respectively.

'Visiting Antarctica is a privilege that comes with a responsibility to leave it pristine,' IAATO executive director Damon Stanwell-Smith said. 'The growth reported by IAATO mirrors a global upward trend in visiting remote places. Increasing evidence shows that these travelers want to tread lightly on the places they visit.'

Stanwell-Smith added: 'IAATO operators are equipped with the knowledge and tools they need to operate responsibly and deliver strong conservation messages to their guests who we hope will return home as ambassadors for its preservation.'

IAATO will present its latest figures at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Buenos Aires, May 13-18, to facilitate discussions on effectively managing human activity in Antarctica.

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