Antarctic Tourism and Overtourism

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Tourism in Antarctica started in the late 1950s and remained at relatively low levels until it began to expand significantly in the 1990s. In the last twenty years Antarctic tourism has experienced both change and continuity, with an overall trend towards growth and diversification that has been in part moderated – or concealed – by seasonal and decadal fluctuations. However, the relative predictability of Antarctic tourism over the past two decades – steady growth managed by limited regulation – seems to be about to change. A new expansion of tourism is now beginning to take place, led by the construction of a considerable number of new cruise ships and a growing interest for Antarctic tourism in Asian markets. This document examines recent and anticipated trends on tourism growth and explore the concept of overtourism as it applies to Antarctic tourism. The initiatives announced by IAATO to manage tourism growth are welcome but Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties should endeavour to be proactive too to ensure that tourism growth does not impact on the values protected by the Protocol. The concept of overtourism may not be fully applicable to Antarctic conditions, but serves as a reminder that rapid tourism growth requires timely action to prevent unwanted effects on the environment and on the tourism experience itself.

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