Recession Hits Antarctica (Is That Good or Bad?)
Travel Blog • Joanna Kakissis • 02.13.09 | 12:58 PM ET
Trips to the (melting) frozen continent can cost anywhere between $8,000 and $30,000, a prohibitive amount in today’s crisis economy of failed banks and indebted consumers. That may explain the projected 7,000-person drop in visitors between the 2007-08 season (which registered a record high of 46,000 people) and the current 2008-09 season, which the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) predicts will bring in around 39,000 people.
And yet, there’s a last-frontier allure to Antarctica that’s only enhanced by very clear evidence that global warming is melting it. (On a big freak-out level, if sea-rise models prove correct, the melting of the Western Antarctic ice sheet means calamitous results for the East Coast of the U.S., i.e., Washington, D.C., as Waterworld.) The climate tourists feel guilty but they will still visit if they can.
The potential damage tourism may cause to Antarctica’s fragile habitat troubles many environmentalists, who would like to see the number of tourists capped and the marketing of visitor rights to the highest bidder. Steve Wellmeier, IAATO’s executive director, disagrees. “We’re talking about a continent that is larger than Australia and we’re talking about a number of tourists that would fill a football stadium,” he told Reuters. “Seriously, is this a number for concern?”
Maybe. Tourism brings the cruise ships, and in the land of icebergs and extreme weather, that sounds like a scenario for “Titanic, the Sequel”.