- 56,000 people travelled to Antarctica during the 2018-2019 season, a 53% increase over the number of tourists in 2014-2015, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators.
- Luxury travel companies are rushing to capitalise on the interest in Antarctica.
- In 2020 and 2021, travellers will be able to book cruise ships with heated outdoor igloo rooms as well as business-class jet service to the continent, Travel Weekly’s Tom Stieghorst reported.
- The 200th anniversary of Antarctica’s discovery, an emphasis on experiential travel, and last-chance tourism are reasons why Antarctica tourism is surging.
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The number of people visiting Antarctica – arguably the most remote place on Earth – has spiked in the past four years.
According to the International Association for Antarctica Tour Operators, 56,168 travellers visited the continent in 2018-2019. That’s a 53% increase from the 36,702 visitors during the 2014-2015 season.
In the scheme of global tourism, of course, 56,000 visitors is a relatively low number. To put it into perspective, 56,000 people is less than the number of passengers who travel “on a single ship the size of the Oasis of the Seas in three months,” Travel Weekly’s Tom Stieghorst reported.
Traditionally, Antarctica has been a smaller tourism market due to “time, distance, cost,” Stieghorst said. The average entry-level Antarctica journeys costs around $US11,000, he added.
According to Adventure Life, an adventure travel company, the shortest trip to Antarctica lasts six days and is offered by Express Air Cruise. To reach Antarctica, most visitors travel by ship from Argentina or New Zealand. Flying from Punta Arenas, Chile, is another option.
A trifecta of factors is making Antarctica an increasingly popular destination
Luxury travel is a $US1.54 trillion market, according to a study Baron Consulting and Wealth-X released in November. Travel Weekly’s Jeri Clausing chalks this up to a “growing emphasis on experiences.”
Luxury travellers – especially billionaires – are seeking the “unknown and the exclusive,” Business Insider’s Hillary Hoffower noted, and Antarctica is about as remote as it gets.
“It’s definitely on many people’s bucket list,” Steven Cowpe, who led expeditions for Antarctica Bound, a United Kingdom-based travel agency, told the AP in 2015. “You feel like you’re at the end of the planet because it’s so wild and when you come back, you feel like you have achieved something great, even if you’re not an explorer.”
What’s more, 2020 is an anniversary year for Antarctica. The new year “marks 200 years since Nathaniel Palmer laid claim to the discovery of the Antarctic mainland, making it an iconic year for all Antarctic travel,” Tom Barber, cofounder of luxury travel agency Original Travel, told Hoffower.
The increase in visitors to Antarctica could also be due in part to last-chance tourism. Antarctica is losing six times as much ice as it did in the 1970s, Business Insider’s Katie Warren noted.
The uptick in visitors this past season has luxury travel companies rushing to develop new ships and routes for travel to Antarctica. In 2020, Lindblad Expeditions is introducing the 126-passenger National Geographic Endurance complete with heated outdoor rooms enclosed in clear igloo structures, Stieghorst noted. For 2021, Ponant is developing its first polar exploration ship, and Silversea Cruises is adding a business-class jet service called Antarctica Bridge that, for $US15,750 per person, saves passengers the two-day journey across the Drake Passage, Stieghorst added.
This past November, Hurtigruten sent the world’s first hybrid cruise ship on its maiden voyage to Antarctica. And as Business Insider’s Hillary Hoffower noted, 2019 also witnessed the launch of the AdventureSmith Explorations’ Magellan Explorer, the first small passenger ship to be purpose-built for Antarctica and offer single-traveller cabins.
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