Australian Antarctic Magazine - Issue 6: Autumn 2004

Will tourism change how we manage Antarctica?

From the beginnings of the Antarctic tourism industry in the 1950s the management of tourism and non-Governmental activities in the Antarctic Treaty area has been based on cooperation between the tourism industry and Antarctic Treaty Parties. Following establishment of an industry body, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) in 1991, the relationship with tour operators strengthened – IAATO has been invited to send representatives to Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM) as invited experts. Since that time the ATCM and IAATO have continued to work together on the management of tourism activities in Antarctica. This collaboration has led to the development of guidelines and operating procedures that aim to minimise the environmental impacts of tourism, as well as promoting the conduct of safe and sustainable tourism activities.

Over the past decade there has been significant growth in the Antarctic tourism industry with increasing diversity in the activities being undertaken, and a rise in the number of tourists and the localities being visited. In 1992–93 there were only 6,704 tourists that landed in Antarctica compared to 13,263 in 2002–03. IAATO estimates that the total number of tourists visiting increased to 17,547 in 2003-04. The range of ship-based activities has expanded similarly, with activities in recent years including marathon runs, camping, kayaking and scuba diving. 

The increase in the diversity and size of the tourism industry, together with concerns relating to the practical management of adventure tourism, has resulted in the ATCM reviewing how tourism activities are managed. During recent meetings the Treaty Parties have held detailed discussions on a wide range of issues related to the management of tourism. These issues have included:

• adoption of an accreditation scheme;

• development of coordinated environmental monitoring schemes at tourist sites;

• development of activity and site specific guidelines;

• the requirement for safety regulations and insurance;

• creation of a centralised database on non-government activities;

• self-management of the industry;

• adoption of an on-board observer scheme;

• development of navigational guides for yacht operators;

• development of an Antarctic polar shipping code; and

• production of educational material for

The XXVI ATCM in 2003 decided to convene a Meeting of Experts to consider some of these issues in more detail prior to the XXVII ATCM. The Parties accepted the offer of the Norwegian Government to host the meeting in Norway from 22–25 March 2004.

The Meeting of Experts considered the following topics relevant to the issue of tourism and non-governmental activities in Antarctica:

• development of an accreditation scheme;

• monitoring, cumulative impact and environmental impact assessment;

• safety and self-sufficiency, including search and rescue and insurance;

• jurisdiction, industry self-regulation, and an analysis of the existing legal framework;

• guidelines;

• adventure (extreme) tourism and government sponsored tourism; and

• coordination amongst national operators.

These discussions will lay the groundwork for decisions to be made at future Treaty meetings.

Warren Papworth, Policy Section, AAD

This page was last modified on 25 May 2004.