by Kevin Griffin writing in cybercruises.com
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) has recently released its final passenger numbers for 2010-11, with the total number of visitors to the region travelling with IAATO members coming to 33,824.
This includes those travelling on traditional expedition ships, yachts, larger cruise-only vessels and visitors participating in land programmes. The overall seasonal results reflect a decrease of 8.3% from last year’s total of 36,875.
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 2009-10.
There were a total of 14,373 passengers in the cruise-only category, 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%. Of these lines, only Holland America and Azamara will still visit Antarctica in the future, while Crystal, Oceania and Princess will remove the Antarctic from their itineraries. This is a result of new regulations that require ships to carry only light diesel oil when visiting the area, and not the heavier bunker oils that can cause the worst spills in case of an accident.
A much smaller air-sea category that includes a combination of air transportation to Antarctica and small-ship cruising tallied at 531 visitors, while land tourism accounted for only 386.
More than 100 different nationalities were represented last season. The United States (at 37%), Australia (10%), the UK (8%), Germany (7%) and Japan, the Netherlands and China (at 3% each) topped the list.
With the ban on heavy fuel oil imposed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) 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 2011-12. The number of voyages by 500-plus passenger vessels is expected to decrease from twelve last season to just five in 2011-12.
Because of this, as well as the lingering effects of a slow economy, the overall number of visitors travelling with IAATO operators for 2011-12 is now projected at 25,319, fully a 25% drop from last season.
Steve Wellmeier, executive director of IAATO, noted “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 heavy fuel oil ban. The result will be visitor numbers overall that mirror those of a decade ago.”