Antarctica Travel Is Trending—and Its Fragile Ecosystem Is at Risk
Interest in tourism to the southernmost continent is spiking, new Google data shows.
When the nine-month cruise drama took over TikTok last month, most people were expecting to become enthralled with reality TV-style interpersonal drama. Instead, a captive audience watched as the large commercial cruise ship sailed through the infamously rough waters of the Drake Passage, as Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas made its way to sail around Antarctica.
This journey brought even more attention to a destination that has been gaining more popularity in recent years. Late last year, Norse Atlantic Airways flew the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner to the continent, landing the plane on an icy runway. Then, just a few weeks after the cruise passed through Antarctic waters, Diplo performed a DJ set on that gorgeous frozen arctic landscape. His presence sparked yet another surge in interest for the continent. Together, a historic flight, a famous (if problematic) DJ and a viral mega-cruise signal are just the latest evidence that the world's southernmost continent is no longer a scientific outpost—it's become the latest trending tourist destination.
According to new data Google shared with Thrillist, searches for Antarctica in the US currently stand at an all-time high. Part of this is due to perpetual interest in the coldest place on Earth, which is the East Antarctica Plateau. But a significant component of this recent fascination is paired with the desire to visit the continent. Search volume around "antarctica travel" has been on the rise since last September, spiking over 300% in activity through last month. Some of the top trending searches related to Antarctica in the last month include "freestyle adventure antarctica" and "viking cruise to antarctica." Both adventure travel company Freestyle and cruise line Viking offer trips to Antarctica.
Not interested in either of those options? It won't be hard to find others. There are more than 100 Antarctic-bound outfitters that are members of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). The organization is committed to "ensure appropriate, safe and environmentally sound private-sector travel to the Antarctic," through guidelines and regulations around the way tourism can be carried out on the continent.
You also won't be alone—currently, more than 50,000 people visit Antarctica each year. And now with TikToks breaking down how to find more affordable ways to go on immersive excursions to the continent, and a growing interest from the public, it's more and more likely that we will continue to see new, cheaper ways for people to get a taste of the southern tip. On TikTok, the #antarctica hashtag currently has over 64,000 videos, with most popular videos racking up millions of views.
Unfortunately, this increased Antarctic tourism activity will probably lead to much more harm than good, if the guidelines and regulations carefully laid out by IAATO and the scientific community are not rigorously followed and enforced (which is likely to happen). Last year, The Atlantic published an article outlining that the rules are already being under-enforced and that the increasing volume of tourists and passing ships is putting the ecosystem at extreme risk.
It can be hard to parse the harm of each visit when club crawlers like Diplo perform DJ sets on the island and giant commercial cruise liners pass through and leave their wake of environmental destruction behind, and all of this is seen as entertainment rather than a degradation. Still, travel to Antarctica is a classic example of just because you can, should you? Maybe the coldest, most sparsely inhabited continent can remain a subject of our curiosity without becoming a sought-after destination.
Opheli Garcia Lawler is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. She holds a bachelor's and master's degree in Journalism from NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. She's worked in digital media for eight years, and before working at Thrillist, she wrote for Mic, The Cut, The Fader, Vice, and other publications. Follow her on Twitter @opheligarcia and Instagram @opheligarcia.