United Nations Environment Programme

Tourism in the Polar Regions: The sustainability challenge


Courtesy of United Nations Environment Programme

During the past two centuries tourism has grown to become the single largest human presence in many Arctic regions. Visitors to the Arctic now greatly exceed their host population at many popular destinations, and Arctic communities are increasingly reliant on the jobs, income, and business revenues tourism generates. The Russian Arctic and part of Canadian Arctic are the general exceptions to this picture. Many Native People, particularly those recently attaining self-rule, view tourism as a more sustainable economic endeavor than their historically tenuous dependence on either subsistence or resource extraction economies.

In Antarctica, there has been a tremendous growth in tourism activities over the last decades. The number of ship-borne tourists increases by 344% in 13 years and land-based tourists by 917 % in 9 years. By the early 1990’s, the number of tourists in Antarctica eclipsed the number of scientists conducting research there. Since then, the disparity between numbers of tourists and scientists has steadily increased. Today improving transport technologies, growing popularity, increasing wealth and leisure time, a moderating climate, and intensive tourism promotion are all contributing to the growth of tourism in the Polar Regions.

Given tourism’s prominence in both Polar Regions, and the expected likelihood that it will continue to grow and expand, residents, governments, and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) want to determine the vulnerability of the polar environment to tourism impacts, mitigate these impacts and design and implement appropriate management responses.

This publication outlines the key features of the Polar Region environment and describes tourism’s multiple roles and impacts in both the Arctic and Antarctica. It describes the significance of Polar Region tourism, explains the trends and impacts, proposes an agenda for sustainable tourism development, and outlines principles, guidelines and selected good practices to conserve these unique wilderness areas through the regulation and management of tourism.

The publication will be officially launched during the World Environment Day celebrations in Tromsø, Norway. A downloadable PDF file will be available in this page on June 4 2007.

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