Towards a tipping point? Exploring the capacity to self-regulate Antarctic tourism using agent-based modelling

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14 Citations (Scopus)


Antarctica attracts tourists who want to explore its unique nature and landscapes. Antarctic tourism has rapidly grown since 1991 and is currently picking up again after the recent global economic downturn. Tourism activities are subject to the rules of the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) and the decisions made by the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties (ATCPs), but within this context, the industry has considerable freedom to self-organise. The industry is self-regulated by a voluntary member-based
group, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). Researchers and policy-makers express concern about IAATO’s ability to deal with further tourism development and the environmental consequences. This study applies a new approach to understand what affects self-regulation, consisting of a literature review and agent-based modelling (ABM). The review identifies four challenges for self-regulation: operator commitment, tourism growth, operator diversification, and
accidents. The ABM simulations help conceptualise the complex concepts and theories surrounding self-regulation. Self-regulation is measured by the capacity of the simulated self-regulatory system to maintain a majority membership at the end of 20 years. The model suggests that a number of the challenges are nonlinear and have tipping points. This approach provides insights that industry officials and policy-makers can use to proactively regulate Antarctic tourism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)412-429
JournalJournal of Sustainable Tourism
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • agent-based modelling (ABM)
  • self-regulation
  • Antarctic tourism
  • simulation
  • scenario analysis

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