Antarctic Tourism Booming

Whether tourist numbers in Antarctica should be limited has been a subject of debate within the scientific community.Whether tourist numbers in Antarctica should be limited has been a subject of debate within the scientific community.

Antarctic tourism is booming and visitor numbers are higher than ever seen before, with the original huts from the Heroic Era proving to be a growing attraction.

In the late 1980s, around 2,000 tourists visited the continent, rocketing up to 44,000 last year.

Within the region are a number of historical huts. One draw card is Scott's Hut—home of explorer Robert Falcon Scott from 1910 to 1912, before his ultimately fatal mission to the South Pole.

"A lot of people have read those amazing stories and they want to go there and see for themselves," Rodney Russ, founder of Christchurch-based Heritage Expeditions, told Newshub.

The growing popularity has seen a change in how people are travelling, too. It is a regular bucket-list tourist destination and demand for cruises is increasing. About 17% of tourists to Antarctica are content to sit on the ship and not step foot onto the ice.

As the trade grows, so too have concerns about how to protect the vast continent, including whether tourist numbers should be limited, a subject of debate within the scientific community.

But Russ rejected that, saying tourism has its place too.

"The treaty says it's set aside for peace and science; tourism is peaceful," he said.

June Hillary, widow of Antarctic explorer Sir Edmund Hillary, and patron of the Antarctic Heritage Trust, agreed.

"I think that it is good for people to see it because it is our planet and it's a great experience," she told Newshub.

"But it's just gently, gently, with everything, I think. But it is a great adventure. You just have to leave no mark."

The rule to "leave no mark" is fiercely protected in the Ross Sea. All travel from New Zealand has to be approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, including tourism.

The mantra is to "take only pictures, leave only footprints", in an attempt to conserve the last continent for the future. Anyone who breaks the rules of their permit could be jailed for up to a year, or fined up to $100,000.

An MFAT spokesperson told Newshub that first-time offenders would likely only get a warning.

"New Zealand is the only country that requires a government observer on board all tourist vessels that depart or are permitted by New Zealand," they said.

"The role of the National Representative is to observe and report back to the MFAT on the operator's compliance with the appropriate permits and legal requirements."

Russ, the only operator granted a permit by MFAT last year, said he has never had an issue with tourists.

"We're passionate about it. We're not going to destroy what we take people down there for," he said.


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