Two Operators, five provisional operators and five new Associates have joined the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) at its first online annual meeting.
Ice Trek and Scenic Expeditions have become IAATO operators, while 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 , Inmarsat, RSR Nemo Ship Management, Newayer Travel and V Ships Leisure have gained associate member status, bringing the total IAATO membership up to 113.
Mark Van der Hulst, IAATO’s Executive Committee Chair, 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 organisation 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,” he said.
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 also offer a further opportunity for the membership to make sure that IAATO’s robust operational guidelines are upheld in practice.
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; emphasising the importance of Refuse Re-use, Reduce and Recycle in preventing litter and harmful plastics from ending up in the environment. In addition, 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 Behaviour and Advice for Interactions.
Finally, due to increased interest in the use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) south of 60 deg, members voted to amend the IAATO RPAS for Navigational Use guidelines to recognise 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, seeking advice from experts unravelling the long-term implications of and solutions to, COVID-19, the organisation said.
A 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.
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.”