The implications of the continuing growth and increasing diversity of Antarctic tourism were raised at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in July. The discussion had been triggered by the recent experience of some Treaty Parties with private expeditions which had got into difficulties. A further stimulus came from the information papers submitted by IAATO (the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) and by ASOC (the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition).
The safety and self-sufficiency of small adventure expeditions had been highlighted by a number of recent incidents in which expeditions had got into difficulties. In some cases search and rescue had to be provided to small adventure expeditions by national program operators, and other incidents involved damage to tour vessels during extreme sea conditions.
The Treaty Parties have raised a general concern about the potential disruption to research programs caused by non-government activities, and by the lack of adequate insurance in some instances. Concerns have also been raised about potential environmental consequences, including the risks of cumulative impacts in the absence of good monitoring programs.
IAATO reported to the meeting that it had recently changed its criteria for membership and would now accept operators of vessels carrying more than 400 tourists, provided those vessels do not land passengers in Antarctica. IAATO’s figures indicate that overall tourism numbers in 2000–01 were slightly down on the previous year (which were possibly inflated by ‘millennium’ events). However, it is clear that the industry is continuing generally to grow and diversify. ASOC raised a number of questions about the conduct and management of private sector activities.
Recognising the importance of ensuring tourism and other non-government activities in the Antarctic are properly managed, the St Petersburg meeting decided that the matter should be subject to detailed discussion at the Treaty meeting in 2002.