30 years of IAATO: “Our mission endures” | Polarjournal
For 30 years, the IAATO has been working to ensure that the nature and environment of Antarctica can be visited safely and sustainably by interested travellers. Humans and animals should be able to meet face to face without disturbing or endangering each other. Picture: Michael Wenger

Tourism to Antarctica was flourishing before the pandemic. Visitor numbers increased and the number of suppliers with their ships also rose sharply. The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) ensures that the nature and environment of this southern wilderness do not suffer. Its members have reaffirmed their commitment to its mission of safe and environmentally responsible tourism, as the Association marks its 30th anniversary.

The non-profit organisation was founded in 1991 by seven companies which had been operating expeditions to Antarctica for several years and wanted to create a global, non-profit industry alliance, to develop substantive regulations and guidelines compatible with the best practices that were already being followed in the field. Since then, IAATO has grown to comprise more than 100 respected companies from across the globe, each working to ensure the protection and preservation of Antarctica through responsible practices, mandatory protocols and robust guidelines.

The IAATO has been hit by the pandemic in the last 1.5 years just like the rest of the tourism industry. As a result, this year’s meeting had to be held virtually. Normally, members gather at their annual meeting over several days. Archive image: Michael Wenger

The reaffirmation was made at the opening of IAATO’s annual meeting on Wednesday (May 12), held online this year due to ongoing COVID restrictions on international travel. Gina Greer, IAATO Executive Director, said: “As well as an opportunity to discuss safety, environmental protection and self-management, our annual meeting is normally a time for members to reunite after up to a year apart. While sadly we’re once again unable to meet in person, we still wanted to mark this incredible milestone in our journey during our virtual annual gathering. This last year wasn’t the year any of us expected. It has been challenging for all our members and their staff, but while the world remains in this period of uncertainty, our mission endures.”

Each year at IAATO’s annual meeting – normally held in late April/early May – members gather to have open discussions on environmental protection, safety 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 ongoing mission. This year’s meeting was hosted across three four-hour sessions via video conference, allowing members from across the globe to connect and discuss various aspects of IAATO business, including the voting-in of new members, enhanced guidelines and committee chairs and safe and environmentally responsible travel to Antarctica in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Association will also host a series of Town Halls to discuss other pressing topics throughout the year.

The two main faces of the IAATO are Executive Director Gina Greer (right) and Executive Committee Chairman Mark van der Hulst (left). While Gina Greer has served as Executive Director since last year, Mark van der Hulst has been with the IAATO for years. Both reaffirm the mission of the Association. Image: IAATO

Outgoing IAATO Executive Committee Chair, Mark Van der Hulst, who steps down this year following five years on the Committee, two at the helm, said: “IAATO has resolved to set the highest possible operating standards in its mission to protect Antarctica while transporting and educating those captivated by it. IAATO demonstrates that first-hand, environmentally responsible travel is possible in remote and precious wilderness areas. As we mark this milestone year, we reaffirm our commitment to upholding our exceptional standards and the continuous development of operating practices to strengthen our mission.”

Source: IAATO Press Office

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