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Date: 09/03/2011

Tourism breaching the final frontier of Antarctica

With many continents around the world regularly visited by holidaymakers, it was only a matter of time before one of the last taboos in travel was broken – tourist trips to Antarctica.

With individuals on the look-out for ever-more adventurous holidays and new encounters, Antarctica offers a unique experience, unspoiled by consumerism or pollution. However, as one of the most important environments globally, the number and type of tourism is tightly controlled and monitored by both the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) and also the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.

For more senior travellers wanting to set foot on the continent, their over 65 travel insurance policy may require a clean bill of health to be obtained before travelling, due to the climatic and geographic extremes of the continent.

During 2007/8 32,000 tourists were granted access onto Antarctica, with a further 13,000 enjoying either a fly-over or a cruise around the area (compared to 9000 tourists per annum during the previous decade). Despite sounding like a higher risk sojourn, standard cruise travel insurance should provide the necessary cover for those sight-seeing from the icy waters, as all necessary safety concerns will have been thoroughly checked by the ship.

Whilst tourism to the region is now becoming more commonplace, the number of restrictions remains very rigid. Examples include strict rules on permitted activities whilst onshore, a minimum guide to passenger ratio and a limit on how many visitors can be present at any one time. Any holidaymaker found to be flouting the rules will face severe penalties, including the possibility of being ejected from the holiday, with neither over 65 travel insurance nor cruise travel insurance policies willing to bear the costs of a bail-out.

Tourists are strongly advised only to book with IAATO recognised operators, as this will ensure maximum protection whilst visiting what can only be described as a hazardous landscape, including search and rescue, emergency and contingency resources.