UPDATE: HURTIGRUTEN CANCELS ANTARCTIC VOYAGES UNTIL JANUARY 2021!
As we have just learned, Hurtigruten has now cancelled its trips to Antarctica until the beginning of 2021. In a statement, the Company puts forward the same reasons as Poseidon Expeditions (see article below): International travel restrictions and unforeseeable flight situation plus the short-term closure of ports. The company also states that it is currently planned to resume journeys from January 2021 on, and that an adjustment of safety measures will be constantly conducted.
When the COVID pandemic began to take hold in February, expeditions to Antarctica were still in full swing. But in order to protect the guests and crew on board, the journeys were cancelled very quickly. With the exception of one dramatic case, the operators also did not record any COVID cases on board. But since then, expedition tourism has gone down the drain. After the cancellation of Arctic season, its southern counterpart is also on the brink and more and more ship operators are calling off their season. Poseidon Expeditions is the newest member of this club.
The company announced the end of its upcoming Antarctic season via newsletter to all its customers. As reasons for the cancellation, the company states: “Corona-related hurdles, such as a “safe-return-to-port” protocol in the Antarctic gateway countries, as well as border and flight restrictions that continue to burden international travel, are the most important basis for our decision.” Passengers who already are booked on departures will have the option of rebooking to another trip next season at no cost or difficulty or, if not possible, requesting a travel voucher for later travel until the end of next year. A specific goodie: The voucher can also be transferred to other people.
The disappointment of the cancellation of the Antarctic season is very great at Poseidon Expeditions. But the safety of the guests and crew on board comes before any economic considerations. Since March, the company, as it writes, had been working on guidelines and health and safety rules, and had been waiting for the authorities in the gateway countries to present their guidelines. “However, in our view, these guidelines are still not sufficiently developed to enable us to act that ensures the health and well-being of passengers, staff and crew in accordance with our requirements,” the company writes in its newsletter.
With its decision to cancel the trips to Antarctica, Poseidon Expeditions joins an ever-increasing number of tour operators. Well-known companies such as Quark Expeditions and Polar Latitudes, which are particularly well represented in the American market, had cancelled their season and rebooked their already booked guests for the next season. Other representatives such as Oceanwide Expeditions, Hapag Lloyd, Ponant and Silversea remain more optimistic and are still waiting for further development. Especially the decisions in Argentina, from where most of the providers start their tours, are still open. A meeting between the Argentine health authorities and the tourism stakeholders of Ushuaia, Argentina’s gateway to Antarctica, went without result. The Fernandez government said last week that it would resume national and international flights from October on. However, clear guidelines on how to ensure safety have not yet been published. This creates a great deal of uncertainty, not only among the tourists themselves, but also among the ship operators.
The picture in the Falkland Islands, on the other hand, is different. There, the authorities have a clear line that they want to continue to pursue. Ships must have been at sea for at least 10 days and have not visited to human settlements if they want to put into Stanely harbour quarantine-free. Flight passengers must be quarantined for 14 days (with tests) before they are allowed to move freely on the islands. South Georgia, another destination for Antarctic voyages, has also published a series of measures to prevent the introduction of COVID-19. However, since contact between residents and passengers would only be possible in Grytviken and this is not very large, the measures are somewhat less strict than in the Falkland Islands. Altough the administration is less reliant on the income from the visits, one would feel the loss of income here as well. And time is running out, and it is likely that more companies will follow Poseidon’s example.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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