IAATO is an international organization comprised of more than 100 respected companies and organizations from across the world. Our mission is to advocate, promote and practice safe and environmentally responsible private sector tourism to the Antarctic.

Protecting Antarctica

Since the beginning of the modern Antarctic travel industry in the 1960s, the number of visitors to Antarctica has grown from a few hundred to 50,000 each year. Recognizing the potential environmental impacts that such growing numbers of visitors could cause, seven private tour operators conducting expeditions in Antarctica joined together in 1991 to form an organization with safe and environmentally responsible travel in this wild and delicate region of the world at its heart.

Today, more than 100 Antarctica-bound outfitters are members of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). Together we have established extensive procedures and robust guidelines that ensure appropriate, safe and environmentally sound private-sector travel to the Antarctic: regulations and restrictions on numbers of people ashore; staff-to-passenger ratios; site-specific and activity guidelines; wildlife watching; pre- and post-visit activity reporting; passenger, crew and staff briefings; previous Antarctic experience for tour staff; contingency and emergency medical evacuation plans and much more.

Each year at IAATO’s annual meeting, members set aside business interests to have candid discussions on safety, environmental protection and self-management. Decision-making is supported by recommendations developed by IAATO’s many dedicated committees and working groups throughout the year. The meetings conclude annually with the voting in of new policies on best practice that support the association’s mission.

IAATO has resolved to set the highest possible operating standards in its mission to protect Antarctica while transporting and educating those enraptured by it. This effort is unique in the world in the challenges it faces to remain environmentally responsible. Our membership comprises ship operators, land-based operators, ship agents, and travel agents.

Most of our members also operate expeditions to other environmentally sensitive areas such as the Arctic and the Amazon, as well as educational excursions to all seven continents. The experience and awareness these tour operators have gained through their IAATO membership has allowed the spirit of environmentally safe and responsible travel to extend to nearly every remote region of the world.

IAATO has also been carefully monitoring, analyzing and reporting Antarctic tourism trends since its inception as part of our commitment to have no more than a minor or transitory impact through the effective self-management of guest activities.

Antarctica receives relatively few visitors compared to other destinations, but its unique qualities require rigorous safeguards. IAATO’s success in responsibly managing visitor activities relies on the willingness of our members to act for Antarctica and, each year, members reaffirm their commitment by making critical decisions with the preservation of Antarctica as the goal.

Working in close cooperation with governments and scientific foundations, IAATO’s representatives attend the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting and other pertinent international conferences each year, as invited experts.

Antarctica represents a more profound manifestation of international peace than any other place in the world – managed for six decades through the Antarctic Treaty’s unprecedented global cooperation of more than 50 countries, and formally designated a “natural reserve dedicated to peace and science.” IAATO sets the standard of best practice self-management in this extraordinary region, demonstrating that first-hand, environmentally responsible travel is possible in remote and precious wilderness areas. Our focus on safeguarding, management and education promotes a greater worldwide understanding of how very special Antarctic is – and of the importance of assuring that it remains as pristine and as majestic for future generations as it is today.

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