Tourism in Antarctica is one of the key issues in Antarctic diplomacy. The United States Government plays an active role in developing international policies related to tourism under the Antarctic Treaty and related instruments. The United States has a major interest in Antarctic tourism as more than one-third of all tourists visiting Antarctica by ship are American citizens and almost half of all Antarctic tourist expeditions are subject to U.S. regulation because they are organized in or proceed from the United States. The State Department (OES/OPA) makes determinations with respect to whether particular tour operators are subject to U.S. regulations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reviews environmental impact assessments submitted by such operators, and the National Science Foundation issues permits related to waste management by tour operators.
Tourism policy is particular important because of the steady increase in the numbers of tourists visiting Antarctica, especially by sea. Visits by tourists raise important issues related to impacts at heavily visited sites and ensuring safety of passengers and crew on tour vessels. At the 30th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting
(ATCM) at New Delhi in 2007, the United States proposed and the meeting adopted a Resolution recommending that countries discourage or decline to authorize tour operators that use vessels carrying more than 500 passengers from making any landings in Antarctica, and limiting the number of vessels conducting or passengers participating in landings at any one time. The United States has been active in helping to establish visitor guidelines for places where landings occur, and spearheaded at the 31st
ATCM at Kyiv in 2008 efforts to begin systematically assessing the possible cumulative impact of tourism on these landing sites.
Experts from the United States, in particular from the U.S. Coast Guard, and 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 procedures, and search and rescue facilities within the Antarctic Treaty area.
Tourism will be a major focus of discussion at the ATCM to be hosted by the United States on April 6-17, 2009, in Baltimore.