The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) has closed its annual meeting in Cape Town with multiple new measures in support of its mission for safe, environmentally responsible Antarctic travel.
IAATO has been carefully monitoring, analysing and reporting Antarctic tourism trends since 1991 as part of its commitment to ‘leave only footprints’ through the effective self-management of guest activities. Every year at IAATO’s annual meeting, members have open and candid discussions on safety, environmental protection and self-regulation. 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 which support the association’s mission.
The measures given the green-light at the organization’s 2019 annual meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, aim to support the effective management of the growing number of visitors to the white continent. 56,168 people travelled with IAATO members in 2018/2019, via both deep field and cruise expeditions, including 10,889 visitors who travelled on cruise-only vessels and did not set foot on the continent.
The actions agreed include a vote to impose mandatory measures to prevent whale strikes in cetacean-rich Antarctic waters, more stringent restrictions on the commercial use of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), robust adjustments to visitor guidelines for activities on the Antarctic peninsula and approval to expand research into the health of penguin populations at visitor sites. IAATO and its counterpart in the northern hemisphere, the Association for Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators, introduced guidelines that will arm visitors to the polar regions with responsible solutions for reducing their waste and plastic footprint.
Mark van der Hulst, incoming chair of the IAATO Executive Committee, said: “Antarctica receives relatively few visitors compared to other destinations, but its unique qualities require rigorous safeguards. IAATO’s success in responsibly managing its activities relies on the willingness of its members to act for Antarctica and, once again, members have demonstrated their commitment by making critical decisions at the 2019 meeting.”
Lisa Kelley, IAATO Head of Operations, said: “Visiting Antarctica is a privilege and we all have a responsibility to keep it pristine. We find that our guests are sensitive to the potential impact that tourism can have on our precious places, and therefore embrace IAATO and Antarctic Treaty System guidelines, stringent bio security measures and wildlife proximity rules.
“Our proven success in conscientious visitor management is the result of forward planning based on long-term understanding of the industry. Focused gatherings such as the IAATO annual meeting help us hone our policies and strategies to protect Antarctica while enabling Antarctic travellers to have an enriching, educational experience.”