For the past few months I have explored the entire industry of tourism in Antarctica. I have learned a great deal and hope that you enjoyed following me on this journey. This final blog entry will be my conclusion based upon all of my research. Please keep in mind that although I will no longer be writing about tourism in Antarctica I will be exploring other topics.
I began this blog series by looking at the logistics of traveling to the seventh continent. Most people sail from Ushuaia, Argentina, which is the southern most part of South America and the closest continental landmass to Antarctica. However this gap of roughly 500 miles is some of the roughest sections of Ocean in the world. With regular swells of 50 feet it is not uncommon for vessels to sink in these treacherous waters. What causes this? There is a continuous current thousands of miles wide circulating around the continent. However this water is compressed into the short distance of 500 miles acting like a pressure nozzle creating huge swell and rough seas. Currently there are many cruise companies, which serve the market willing to cross these waters. However each year ships sink and get stuck in the ice. There seems to only one company serving those customers willing to shell out huge sums of money to fly to the continent. This company is Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions.
The climate of Antarctica is one of the harshest on earth. Fairly constant sub zero temperatures dipping in excess of -100 degrees life in this region is limited. Winds also tend to reach hurricane levels. This is not an uncommon situation. It can be so rough that without an enclosure man cannot survive. These conditions make it vey difficult to maintain client safety and keep clients happy.
The Future outlook on tourism is unknown at the moment. It seems as though the nations that created the Antarctic treaty aim to reduce the exponential growth of tourism Antarctica. What does this mean for businesses? Well I see it as a good thing. The few companies out there have such high demand that they will be able to raise their prices if forced to cut the number of clients. This destination will become even more exclusive than it already has become. Only the richest of the rich will be able to afford a spot. Demand will not decrease. Currently many of the cruises are about 2 to 3 times as expensive as normal cruises. If new regulation is passed I would not be surprised if prices double or even triple. The demand it their for such a price change to occur without negative impacts on such tour operators.
If you have a dream of traveling to the adventure continent of Antarctica do it now. The prices will likely be going up. While more regulation may be passed this will hurt the tourist more than the business. Due to this exponential growth there is now a growing market for high priced adventure tours. The extreme luxury market is the only market with the ability to withstand such changes. As supply decreases and demand maintains prices will increase dramatically. So go now, as prices will climb.
Sustainability Antarctic Travel?
Because of my background in sustainable tourism I would love the opportunity to get on my soapbox and preach about how tour operators in Antarctica should change the way they run their operation to make it sustainable. However the reality there is no such thing as sustainable Antarctic Travel. Because of the lack of infrastructure each tour must be independent and cannot rely on shared recourses to make such tours realistically ecofriendly. Yes there are changes that could be made but the sheer amount of recourses necessary to make such a trip possible prevent this type of travel as being classified as sustainable. This is at least true based upon current technology. In the future this my and likely will change.
As you already have learned there are two ways to reach Antarctica. The most popular is by sea. The other is by air. One company seems to dominate this market. Antarctic Logistic Expeditions or ALE is based in Salt Lake City. As a result I felt that I would be a good Opportunity to gain some perspective from a company in the industry. I spoke with a member of their staff in this office about their operations. Despite a short interview I gained a bit of insight into how the organization functions.
My first question to her was regarding why ALE seemed to have a monopoly on flights in and out of the continent. Here reply was that it was due to extreme nature of the conditions. It does make sense that there would be few companies however a single dominant company seemed a bit farfetched. This is especially true due to the unbelievable cost of their services. With flights upwards of $40,000 per person it is surprising that no one has stepped in with a lower cost alternative. I was also shocked that a company working in Antarctica would be based in Salt Lake City. She explained that this was due to the ease of buying snow equipment at a reasonable cost with major air transport near bye. She believes that business is strong and they have reached their capacity fro clients. However I question how this would be affected by new proposed regulation from the Antarctic treaty. This new regulation is aimed at reducing the number of tourists setting foot on the continent in the future. If their business diminishes will prices begin skyrocket. I personally do not see a stark change in demand in the near future. With fewer spaces will the laws of supply and demand force those not in wealthy elite from seeing this part of the world? However with present demand and expansion we could easily destroy the last pristine landscape on earth.
A New Concept?
Over the past couple of months I have explored tourism in Antarctica. This week I would like to dive into the history of travel to the southern most continent. The concept of Antarctica as a tourism destination is still a very new concept.
Fair Trade Without locals?
Because of this logistical challenge it is impossible for smaller tour operators to run such tours safely. Therefore it is only big business that gets to run this market. However we have seen many befits to the locals of Ushuaia. In the past 20 years this has boom in Antarctic tourism has greatly affected this city as well as the entire region of Tierra del Fuego. With the development for tourism came a decrease in transportation cost. This has led to an increased fruit exports.
Antarctica is a very unique situation. Although fair trade is not a possibility in this region it is almost anywhere else. Anywhere where people live, fair trade can and should exist. It is a model, which benefits its people in a better and more sustainable way. As we look to the future we may see changes in this but for the moment Antarctica is highly protected and will not be gaining any fulltime residents besides scientists and the penguins anytime soon.
The 5 Cornerstones of Fair Trade
1) fair working conditions- 95 percent of all tourists reach Antarctica reach the continent by way of ship. Usually working conditions are extreme and limited in living space. However people fight tooth and nail for these positions because it allows them to reach this expensive destination usually reserved for only the top few percent of society.
2) Fair Prices- This is something that does not exist. Demand is high and costs are also high. Therefore prices can reach into the absurd. It is not uncommon to pay nearly twenty thousand dollars to bunk with 3 others on this journey.
3) Integration Into the Local Economy and Regional Development- This exists in some degree within the nation surrounding the continent.
4) Fair Trade Partnerships Between All Actors in Tourism- This does not exist
5) Sustainable Resource Use and Environmental Justice- This is a cornerstone of all Antarctic travel. Due to the Antarctic treaty all tourism operation are required to follow a stringent set of laws and regulations. These restrictions are only becoming stricter with time.
Can Antarctic Tourism Really Be Ecotourism?
How do tourism operations in Antarctica come into this picture? Due to the extreme remoteness of traveling to Antarctica there will always be a fairly large impact. This is because of the transportation required to reach the continent. However all operations are required to follow strict guidelines. This is a result of The Antarctic Treaty. So in some ways all of these operations meet some of the requirements in order to be considered under this field.
What are some principals of ecotourism? The first principal is to minimize impact. The Antarctic Treaty requires this. The second principal is to provide environmental education on the region traveled. This is a large part of traveling to Antarctica. Most tours have naturalist as well as other scientists in order to inform clients of what exits in Antarctica. This includes both fauna and flora. In addition to this tour operators such as Limbad Expeditions have a highly qualified expedition staff.
One of the biggest issues facing Antarctic Tourism is the massive risk traveling through Drakes Passage as well as through the ice. Although these ships are designed to travel through such extreme conditions Mother Nature still controls the outcome. Another element of ecotourism is that it is done in a way that is safe for those traveling. This is a consistent issue with these tours. Each year at least one of these ships become stranded in the ice and require a rescue.
Resolution Seeks to Place New Limits On Tourism
There are now many fears that tourism development will destroy the fragile landscape of the frozen content. According to an article in The Telegraph, British officials are now seeking a resolution to place limits on future tourism developments. This would include measures such as ship proximity to land as well as the number of landings. I think that this is a good step towards a more sustainable use of the continent. This is our last region of the globe with limited visible human impact. I believe we must sustain that aspect of Antarctica. That does not mean that I am advocating for the elimination of tourism. I strongly believe that you cannot protect what you do not love.
There are also many other risks. Many of these are to the tourist themselves. Despite the vast quantity of comforts that allow for Antarctica to be experienced as a tourist destination, we must not forget the harsh environment which remains. Each year we see several ships which in need of rescuing. This is an element unique to the destination. We must keep the safety of Antarctic tourists at the top of our list of priorities. Despite the efforts of the british officials the new treaty has been tabled for 32nd Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.
Just reaching Antarctica is a major logistical challenge in and of itself. One can reach the continent either by air or by sea. Due to the limited supply and high cost, traveling by air is not the typical choice of the Antarctic tourist. The vast majority reaches Antarctica by way of the sea. However you do run a risk to reach Antarctica by sea. Most ships embark on their journey from the port city of Ushuaia, Argentina. Not long after leaving the mainland the sea begins to deliver its torrential blows. The route between Ushuaia and the Antarctic Peninsula is known as Drakes Passage. This is considered one of, if not the roughest sections of ocean in the world. Once you have crossed the passage then comes the ice. It is essential to use a vessel that is an icebreaker and even then you can get stuck for a multitude of reasons. Despite all of the reasons I just laid out, I am not attempting to steer you away from traveling to Antarctica. I firmly believe that the toughest places to get to, hold the greatest riches for those who can get past the difficulties of reaching them.
In the coming weeks I will be writing about tourism to Antarctica. I will seek to lie out the positives as well as the negatives to this destination. I also want to see how climate change is a affecting both the destination as well as the outlook on tourism in the region.
Please feel free to give me feedback on my blog entries on my feedback page.
We live in an age where travel destinations are becoming increasingly accessible. Transportation has become cheaper and budget travel is a new and developing art. With the advent of the internet there are now more resources than ever available to the masses. With information comes power. This has torn apart the traditional tourism models and created a new found level of accessibility and comfort with the global exotic destination. The purpose of this blog is to integrate both information regarding the world of travel and my personal experience in tourism. If you enjoy my posts I encourage you to pass them along by sharing them with your social media networks.
I am a traveler, a student, a vagabond, a business owner, an entrepreneur and a dreamer. My name is Stuart Derman and welcome to the Digital Vagabond. The purpose of this blog is to integrate my personal travel experiences with trends and issues within the tourism field. My background is in electronic marketing within the tourism field.