Tourism arrivals to Antarctica are expected to see double-digit growth this year, driven by rising numbers of visitors from China.
According to new data from the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), a total of 38,478 tourists travelled to Antarctica in the 2015-16 season, marking a year-on-year increase of 4.6%. And this growth is expected to accelerate next season, with 43,885 visitors expected for 2016-17 – up 14.1% year-on-year.
The US and Australia remained Antarctica’s largest visitor source markets in 2015-16, accounting for 35.5% and 11.0% of the total visits respectively. But these numbers were similar to the previous year.
The most significant growth was seen in arrivals from China, which jumped 25.7% year-on-year. China is now the third largest source of tourists to Antarctica, and more than one-in-ten visitors to the frozen continent is now Chinese. The UK and Germany completed the top five.
The IAATO noted that visitor numbers have been increasing steadily since 2011-12, “in line with global trends”. But next season’s total will still not match the peak of 46,265 tourists who visited Antarctica in the 2007-08 austral summer.
“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,” said IAATO executive director, Dr Kim Crosbie.
Only a tiny fraction of visitors to Antarctica however, will see anything other than the continent’s coast. The vast majority of tourists visit the continent as part of a cruise, and only 1.1% of visitors in 2015-16 travelled inland. In real terms, this is fewer than 500 people.
However, cruise visits with landings increased 10.5% last season, and the IAATO said it expects this trend to continue next year.