For a long time Antarctica really was impossible to get to unless you were part of an official expedition or owned your own boat. The first tentative steps were taken in the late 1950s when Chile and Argentina took the first paying tourists onboard their naval vessels used in resupplying their research stations. The current form of expedition cruising with expert lecturers and landings to visit wildlife and heritage sites was pioneered by a Swedish–American Lars Eric Linblad whose first chartered ship cruised south in 1966. He went on to build the first ice-strengthened tourist expedition ship – the Linblad Explorer – and began regular cruises on this in 1969. Meanwhile adventurous yachtsmen had seen this as a new frontier and yachts from several countries began to visit the Antarctic and the sub-Antarctic islands at the end of the 1960s.
Airborne tourism began with flights from South America down over the Antarctic Peninsula in 1956 but it was not until 1977 that regular overflights began from New Zealand and Australia. Flights to the interior began in 1984 but it was not until the establishment of inland facilities with a connecting air bridge using a blue ice runway in 1987 that annual tourism of the interior of the continent began.
In 1991 the seven major tour operators decided to form a trade association and work together to promote responsible tourism. The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) has since grown to over 100 members, encompassing almost all the principal tour operators into Antarctica. Antarctic Treaty Governments encourage tourists to use IAATO companies because of their interest in environmental protection, their careful adherence to safety standards and the extra dimension of both enjoyment and information they supply through their guest lecturer programmes. Their web site at http://iaato.org/ provides details of member companies and will direct you to the wide variety of tours and activities now available.