Tourism in Antarctica has grown dramatically. In 1985, just a few thousand people visited the area but in the season 2007/2008 more than 40,000 did the same. A number of parties are concerned about the effects of this rapid growth with respect to safety, the environment, the scale of tourism and the lack of financial resources for monitoring and enforcement purposes. They also have doubts about how this growth can be reconciled with the basic principles of the Antarctic Treaty System ATS.
Antarctica is not a sovereign state and so legislation is difficult. With strict guidelines and codes of conduct, the umbrella organisation of Antarctic tour operators, IAATO, has been able to dispel many of the concerns. However, this self-regulation is no absolute guarantee for a healthy tourism industry on Antarctica.
One possible solution is that of marketable visitor rights, as is already used in the climate policy by means of trading in CO2 emission rights. First of all a maximum annual number of tourist days in Antarctica will be set. To ensure a smooth transition, this maximum will be set higher than the actual number of tourists days used. As soon as the demand for holiday days in Antarctica is higher than the maximum, the rights to the days will have a certain value.
By awarding the rights to the ATS, the income can be used, for example, for monitoring and enforcement purposes, issues for which there is little money at present. The visitor rights will be auctioned: sold to the highest bidder. Then the buyers are free to trade the rights further. This will ensure that the available ‘space’ in tourist days will be used for the most profitable forms of tourism. This system of marketable visitor rights could allow three objectives to be realised: the scale of tourism and with this its effects will be limited, an urgently desired new source of funding will become available for monitoring and enforcement, and the tourism trade in the Antarctic area will remain financially healthy.