Tourism is a key issue in Antarctic diplomacy. The United States Government works with other Antarctic Treaty Parties to develop international rules related to tourism under the Treaty and related instruments. The United States has a major interest in Antarctic tourism because more than one-third of all tourists visiting Antarctica by ship are American citizens. Furthermore, almost half of all Antarctic tourist expeditions are subject to U.S. regulation because they are organized in or proceed to Antarctica from the United States. The United States has a major interest in promoting the safety of American citizen tourists in Antarctica, in particular, and in minimizing environmental impacts of U.S. tourists and U.S.-based tour operators. As a result, the United States has been a leader in developing Antarctic tourism policies, as well as policies and rules protecting the Antarctic environment.
The State Department (OES/OPA) determines whether particular tour operators are subject to U.S. regulation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reviews environmental impact assessments submitted by such operators. The National Science Foundation issues permits related to waste management by tour operators.
Tourism policy is particularly important because of the steady increase in the numbers of tourists visiting Antarctica, especially by sea. The United States supports safe, responsible, and environmentally friendly tourism in Antarctica. To this end, the United States pursues policies designed to minimize environmental degradation in Antarctica, especially at heavily visited sites, such as the Antarctic Peninsula. At the 32nd Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) at Baltimore in 2009, the United States proposed and the Meeting adopted a Measure that prohibits vessels carrying more than 500 passengers from making any landings in Antarctica, that limits the number of vessels conducting landings at any given site, and that restricts the number of passengers on shore at any one time. The Measure will become effective once the Consultative Parties complete their internal processes and approve the Measure.
The United States is concerned with ensuring the safety of both passengers and crew on Antarctic tour vessels. Experts from the United States, in particular from the U.S. Coast Guard, and from other nations are working with the ATCM and within committees of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to assess the adequacy of ship design and equipment standards, vessel management and operational procedures, and search and rescue facilities within the Antarctic Treaty area. The United States fully supports the efforts of the IMO to develop a mandatory Polar Code to ensure the safety and seaworthiness of vessels and to address potential environmental impacts of ships operating in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.
Information for U.S. citizens traveling to Antarctica is available at the travel.state.gov website.