Full House at the Gateway to Antarctica | Polarjournal
It is still quiet in the port of Ushuaia as this webcam shot shows. But already in a few weeks the Antarctic season will start and the first cruise ships will head for the southernmost city in the world. Image: Screenshot Skycam.com

How much polar-savvy people had longed for the end of lockdowns worldwide and a resumption of travel to Antarctica became apparent last year. Ships were full, vendors rejoiced, and saw light at the end of a two-year dry spell. But in the end, the pandemic won out again and the season ended less gloriously for many of the operators. But now they want to make a real fresh start and the port authorities of Ushuaia will have their hands full this season. At least that is the hope.

Altogether 64 ships are registered, which want to undertake approximately 500 calls to port in the southernmost city of the world, reports the Tierra del Fuego tourism institute Infuetur in a statement. In terms of passengers, this means a record number of more than 170,000 guests, an increase of around 300 percent compared to the previous season. “We are pleased to see the recovery of cruise activity, which will have a strong impact on the local economy,” said Dante Querciali of Infuetur. “We expect a busy summer season with a significant influx of passengers, as has been the case throughout the year with government incentive programs for Argentines to visit their own country.”

Tierra del Fuego authorities have begun expanding the port to meet the increasing demand of Antarctic travel. More than 400 of the ship visits target the Antarctic region between the Falklands/Malvinas and the Antarctic Peninsula. Image: Dr Michael Wenger)

Originally, more than 250,000 guests were expected to travel to Ushuaia starting September 29. It will start with the arrival of the Chilean ship Ventus Australis, a 200-passenger vessel offering trips to the Patagonian fjords, followed by the National Geographic Resolution in early October. From the end of October, things will start to get really hectic when Quark Expeditions, Viking Cruises, Antarpply and other tour operators will bring their ships to Ushuaia to receive the expectant Antarctic travelers. Of the approximately 500 ship visits, more than 400 will depart for Antarctica, Infuetur explains. In this regard, the port authorities hope that the already 80-meter-long jetty will provide additional help to cope with the number of ships. Whether the other parties, such as bus companies and accommodations, are also ready for this huge number of visitors will become clear in the course of the season.

More visitors are also reported for the Antarctic Peninsula from the air side. Chilean provider Aerovías DAP is the main protagonist here, as the company operates the most flights to King George Island (archive photo). Image: LBM1948 via Wikicommons CC BY-SA 4.0

Not only are ship numbers expected to increase this Antarctic season, but the number of air passengers flying to King George Island from Chile is also higher than last year. The airline Aerovías DAP, which provides the bulk of the flights, reported to the media more than 150 flights to Antarctica. This represents an increase of 30 percent over last year. “Now things are picking up, mainly because of the good vaccination rates,” explains Nicolás Paulsen, DAP’s charter manager. “This link brings not only comparative advantages for Chile, but also competitive advantages, since the volume of operations means economic feasibility for many countries.” One of the most important partners in this is the Chilean company Antarctica XXI, which takes its guests deeper into Antarctica by ship only from King George Island.

Last year, at least at the beginning of the season, the landing sites along the Antarctic Peninsula were very well occupied. It will be interesting to see what it will look like this season with even more ships? Map (archive): Marine Traffic

More than 400 ship visits to and from Antarctica will also mean a massive influx of ships for the region. In order for this to happen in a reasonably orderly fashion (changes of plans at short notice are part of an expedition), preparations at IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) are in full swing. The most important tool here is the Schedule Planner, which records the visits of the ships to the individual landing points. This is to achieve a more even distribution of ships and visitors and relieve pressure on sensitive areas, something that has worked relatively well in the past. Infrastructure relief at the port of departure and destination is not yet expected, because the federal government in Buenos Aires has yet to grant the funds for the completed expansion of the port.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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