A small increase in cruise ship visitors to South Georgia compared to the previous season bucks the trend of the Antarctic region. In the 2011/12 season tourists to the Antarctic fell by 22%, whereas in South Georgia they increased 8%, according to the September edition of the South Georgia Newsletter.
An estimated total of 10,000 people visited South Georgia during last season, a figure that includes 5,831 passengers and 578 staff from cruise ships, and 101 people on yachts. The others would have included crew from the cruise ships, people travelling on military and Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships and those working and travelling on research ships and the Fishery Patrol ship.
A total of 51 cruise ship visits were made, five more than the season before, and passenger numbers were up a few hundred on the previous season. This is the first upturn since cruise ship visitor numbers started declining in 2008/9. Cruise ship visitors are still well down on the 2007/8 and 2008/9 seasons when around 8000 visitors arrived that way. There is a similar pattern in the Antarctic region with last season being the fourth consecutive year in which Antarctic tourism has declined, but the region is expecting an upturn in the season ahead.
More people from the USA visit South Georgia on cruise ships than any other nationality (25%) closely followed by Germans (22%), and 49% of the cruise ship visitors are from English speaking countries. People from 50 different countries came, though 22 of those had less than ten of that nationality visit in the year. Although still only around 1- 2% of cruise ship passengers, there is a developing trend for more visitors to come from China and a possibility of an all-Chinese charter on one of the larger vessels in the coming season.
Most cruise ships visiting South Georgia (72%) bring between 50 and 150 passengers, and most ships visit two sites around the Island each day. The smaller ships tend to stay longer at South Georgia than the larger ones.
There were very few yacht visits in the 2011/12 season. Seven yacht visits were made by five different yachts, all but one on charter. Six military or RFA vessels visited, and six visits were made by research vessels.
The season ahead, 2012/13 looks broadly similar to the last for cruise ships, with 51 visits currently booked with a capacity for 6,330 passengers - which should translate to around 5,500 visitors for the season depending on occupancy.
It an early start to the new season as the 85-passenger vessel Ushuaia visited Grytviken on October 13th, with three other cruise vessels due before the end of the month. There will be a lot more yachts than last season though, with 14 visits on the schedule and others known to be planning a visit.