Two Operators, five provisional operators, and five new Associates have been welcomed into the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) at the responsible tourism organization's first online annual meeting.
Ice Trek and Scenic Expeditions have become IAATO Operators, Intrepid Travel, Residences at Sea, Students on Ice, Sur Expeditions and Viking Expeditions have been granted Provisional Operator status and a further five; Arbue Services S.A., Inmarsat, RSR Nemo Ship Management, Newayer Travel and V Ships Leisure have gained Associate Member status, making the total IAATO membership to 113.
The new operators, provisional operators and associates were voted in by the IAATO membership.
Each year at IAATO’s annual meeting – normally held in late April/early May – members gather to have open discussions on safety, environmental protection and self-management. Decision-making is supported by recommendations developed throughout the year by IAATO’s many dedicated committees and working groups. This concludes with the voting in of new policies on best practice which support the Association’s mission.
Due to the impacts of COVID-19 on international travel, the 2020 annual meeting was hosted via video conference, allowing members from across the globe to connect and discuss various aspects of IAATO business, which included operator voting on new members, as well as safe and environmentally responsible travel to Antarctica in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mark Van der Hulst, Chair of IAATO’s Executive Committee, said: “IAATO is a trusted and valued Antarctic stakeholder thanks to its proven commitment to safe, environmentally responsible travel. Joining IAATO demonstrates a company’s desire to safeguard Antarctica and learn from the collective experience and wisdom of the IAATO family.
“IAATO has stringent criteria for joining in order to ensure that every new member shares our mission and vision, so gaining membership to our unique organization reflects a tremendous amount of hard work, dedication and commitment.
“We’re delighted to welcome our new members into the organization and grant Ice Trek and Scenic Expeditions full operator status.”
As a condition of membership, all new Provisional Operators will be required to carry an IAATO observer on board to witness their operations in the field. Observations not only provide a forum for feedback, but offer a further opportunity for the membership to make sure that IAATO’s robust operational guidelines are upheld in practice.
Since its inception in 1991, IAATO has taken a proactive role in managing pressure on the Antarctic environment, working within the framework of the Antarctic Treaty System to help visitors have an enriching experience, whilst having no more than a minor or transitory impact on the region. The annual launch of the IAATO Ship Scheduler – a tool which restricts the time, number of passengers and daily visits allowed to the most popular sites on the Antarctic Peninsula – is a key part of responsible visitor management.
Among the enhanced measures voted in at this year’s meeting was an update to the Reducing Waste Guidelines for visitors to Antarctica; emphasizing the importance of Refuse Reuse, Reduce and Recycle* in preventing litter and harmful plastics from ending up in the environment. Additionally, new guidelines, IAATO Vessel Helicopter Guidelines and Etiquette, was also voted in, extending guidance beyond the standard vessel operating procedures.
Best practice recommendations made by IAATO specialist committees and working groups throughout the year led to updates to the IAATO Vessel Code of Conduct and the Understanding Fur Seal Behavior and Advice for Interactions. Finally, due to increased interest in the use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) south of 60 degrees, members voted to amend the IAATO RPAS for Navigational Use guidelines to recognize the use of RPAS by vessels for navigational purposes, whilst remaining committed to the ban on their recreational use in coastal areas.
This year’s meeting saw the introduction of IAATO’s COVID-19 Steering Group; formed to drive the creation of IAATO guidance on COVID-19 procedures for the 2020/21 season.
The impact of the pandemic on IAATO Member operations in the coming season remains unclear. However, as a community, IAATO members are working together through a number of possible scenarios, all the time seeking advice from experts unraveling the long-term implications of, and solutions to, COVID-19.
The Steering Group, currently consisting of IAATO member Operators and members of the IAATO Secretariat, will look at the order of tasks to successfully create IAATO COVID-19 guidance for Members, leveraging the strength, skills and experience of IAATO’s existing committees and working groups as well as the expertise of the secretariat, stakeholders, and worldwide industry standards.
Gina Greer, IAATO Executive Director said: “The unique qualities of Antarctica require stringent safeguards, and while the pandemic created some significant challenges in delivering our annual meeting this year, it was important to still come together in a virtual setting to build on the policies and processes that keep these safeguards in place.
“I’d like to thank our members from across the globe who joined us for our first online annual meeting. Their active engagement over the two days ensured the success of the meeting.”
The newest affiliates bring IAATO’s membership to 113; comprising 46 operators, 8 provisional operators, and 59 associate members.
* Refuse: Refuse items you don’t need such as bags, bottles, cutlery and cups;
Reuse: Extend the life of your belongings. If you don’t need it, give it away;
Reduce: By consuming less and using reusable items you can help reduce the total amount of waste world-wide;
Recycle: Learn about waste recycling at home and separate accordingly. Look for recycling opportunities when travelling.
Total IAATO membership to 113.