Enthusiasm for Antarctica worldwide is at an all-time high. This is particularly apparent from the fact that more tourists than ever before visited the southern polar region last season. On the one hand, this causes a lot of criticism. On the other hand, however, the industry representative IAATO sees this as an opportunity to get even more people interested in Antarctic issues. The Antarctic Ambassador Program was developed for this purpose and is now receiving an upgrade.
A separate committee, the Antarctic Ambassadorship Committee, was created at this year’s annual meeting specifically to expand the IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) ambassadorship program. This committee will develop a complete, structured program to reach people around the world who are passionate about Antarctica and want to advocate for the region and what it stands for. “Antarctic Ambassadorship is at the core of IAATO’s mission,” explains newly elected committee chair Steve Jones. “The creation of this new committee shows that in the clearest possible terms.”
Not only should tourists experience nature, but contact with those who work there is also made possible. This gives visitors even more knowledge about the importance of Antarctica. The IAATO ambassador program also promotes this. Pictures: Michael Wenger / IAATO
The newly formed committee grew out of the IAATO Education & Outreach Working Group, which had been developing the Antarctic Ambassadors Program since 2015. To this end, various communication strategies and channels were developed and cooperation with the public was intensified. “Everyone who cares about Antarctica has a responsibility to advocate and act for the continent,” Steve Jones continues. Here, the committee is now to continue and develop the work. “We plan to make it easier than ever before for people to show their commitment and truly become Antarctic Ambassadors.” To do this, the first step will be to develop a structured program for guide teams to show direct visitors to Antarctica the first steps on the path to ambassador status.
A number of measures and outcomes, such as the Ambassadorship Challenge launched in 2022, will help. This challenge is a series of 24 tasks that polar fans can do at home to show their support for the region. This allows them to achieve ambassador status even if they never want to or can visit the region. “This will not only enable visitors returning from Antarctica to continue the journey their IAATO member operator started them on, but will allow those who have not been, nor plan to travel to Antarctica, to engage with the program at the same level,” said Hayley Collings, IAATO’s director of communications.
Strengthening and expanding the Antarctic Ambassador Program comes at the end of a season that set a new record in terms of visitors. More than 105,000 passengers visited Antarctica by ship and plane last season. Of these, more than 2/3 had also gone ashore while the rest were only with ships as so-called “cruise only” guests in the southern polar region. While the IAATO sees great potential in encouraging as many people as possible to make changes at home with a positive impact on Antarctica, critics of Antarctic tourism disagree. They see this merely as an attempt by the industry to engage in “greenwashing” and thus conceal the harmful effects of a boosting tourism. Many of the critics hail from the environmental and scientific communities and warn that the industry knows only one way to go, up with even more tourists and correspondingly even more damage to fragile Antarctic nature. But at the same time, voices can be heard from the same sides welcoming a program such as that of the IAATO and seeing it as a great opportunity to promote greater sustainability, energy conservation and environmental protection in society, including the protection of Antarctica. And at least on that, all sides seem to agree: the need to keep Antarctica as natural and pristine as possible for as long as possible.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
Link to the“Antarctic Ambassadorship” website
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