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How IAATO Works

Membership Structure

In this section:

Membership Structure

Requirements for Members

Requirements for Operator and Provisional Operator Members

Operator members and Provisional Operator members have achieved their status by fulfilling the requirements in Article III, Sections B and C and Article X, as applicable. The complete specifics of these requirements can be found in these Articles and Sections of the Bylaws. We paraphrase a few of the most important points as follows:

  • Article III, Section B
    • Organize travel programs to the Antarctic and/or sub-Antarctic islands at least once every three consecutive Antarctic seasons.
    • Complete the required legal process with the appropriate Antarctic Treaty Party to obtain authorization or approval to visit Antarctica and/or sub-Antarctic islands.
    • Ensure that their vessels, aircraft and equipment are suitable for safe and effective operation under Antarctic conditions.
    • Adhere to other obligations as adopted by the ATS.
  • Article X, Section B (Conditions for all Organizers’ Operational Activities, Section C (Vessel Operations), Section D(Aircraft Operations) and Section E (Land Operations)The requirements in Article X are some of the most crucial standards that exist for IAATO organizers and operators. It is important that all Operator and Provisional Operator Members are well versed in these requirements, which deal with:
    • Contingency planning
    • Requirements for staffing, supervision and support personnel
    • The use of Post-Visit Site Reports (PVR) and End of Season Reports (EOS)
    • Incorporating IAATO guidelines and procedures into the organizer’s/operator’s own operating procedures while in Antarctica

Requirements for Provisional Operator Members to Become Operators

It is expected that Provisional Operator members seek to become “full” or voting Operators. The guidelines for this process are noted in the following:

Relevant Bylaws: Article 3, Section C and Section H

IAATO Approved Observer

As noted above, Provisional Operator members are required to carry an IAATO-approved Observer (unaffiliated to the member being observed) during a voyage as agreed to by IAATO. This requirement is generally understood to apply to all Provisional Operator members, excluding those who are operating or organizing Antarctic programs aboard yachts carrying 12 passengers or fewer. However, these operators are required to participate in the IAATO-approved Dockside Observer Scheme. This is determined by new Yacht Membership Guidelines & Observer Requirements, approved at IAATO 22 and 23.

For further information on the IAATO Observer program for Provisional Operator members it is suggested that you download the IAATO Provisional Operator Member Responsibilities document from the IAATO Admin section.

Being – and Staying – an “IAATO Member in Good Standing”

What does being an “IAATO member in good standing” really mean? The Bylaws refer to this term more than a dozen times, with most instances noting that voting is reserved for Members in good standing. While voting is, indeed, reserved for “full” Operators, Provisional Operators and Associate members also need to be aware of what it takes to remain in good standing.

Insofar as membership requirements, being an “IAATO member in good standing” or “not in good standing” are  described in the relevant Sections of Article 3 noted below:

Section E – Comply with Objectives and Bylaws, and stay current with dues and fees
Section F – Those not in good standing are subject to reprimand or change of membership status
Section G – Subject to timely payment of dues and fees
Section I – Responsible for ensuring charterers, wholesalers and other parties conform with IAATO Bylaws and Objectives
Section L – Agree to be bound by the IAATO Rules of Procedure
Section M – Release IAATO from claims or causes of action arising out of investigation or actions resulting from the IAATO Rules of Procedure
Section N– Agree to be bound by the IAATO Antitrust Compliance Admonition and the IAATO Antitrust Guidelines

Compliance and Dispute Resolution

The objective of a meaningful Compliance and Dispute Resolution (C&DR) policy is to:

  • Provide IAATO and its members with an effective means to process disputes and violations of IAATO Bylaws and other policies in a timely manner
  • To evaluate them fairly, objectively and consistently
  • To impose enforceable sanctions that appropriately punish violators and serve as a deterrent against future infractions

Following several years of effort and drafting by the Compliance Working Group, Members adopted at IAATO 23 (Providence, 2012) several crucial documents that form the foundation for IAATO’s Compliance and Dispute Resolution Policy: Rules of Procedure for Enforcing Compliance and a Fast Track annex, the latter which provides for an expedited process in certain situations. Members also approved Terms of Reference for a new Compliance and Dispute Resolution Committee (CDRC) that oversees the entire process.

It is worth noting that the vast majority of disputes and compliance issues will continue to be dealt with – and agreed to by the parties involved – in the very early stages of the process. This has been the case in the past, and will continue. The C&DR policy takes this into consideration, with many opportunities during the process for parties to resolve the issue, rather than having it decided by Members at the Annual Meeting.

Members of course retain the ultimate right to decide serious issues where disagreement persists between the parties, and this is the rationale for developing and implementing a C&DR policy.

Current C&DR documents can be found in the CDRC external area.

Member Use of the IAATO Logo in Advertising

It is a privilege to be a member of IAATO and it makes sense that members want to advertise this fact to their various audiences. However, with the privilege comes a responsibility to use the logo properly. The IAATO logo is our official “trademark” and is not available for general use. The use
of the logo in brochures, advertisements or other promotional materials is reserved for Operators and Associates in good standing.

When is a non-IAATO member allowed to use the IAATO logo? Use of the logo is acceptable in the promotional materials of non-IAATO sales/marketing partners, for example. These are groups, tour operators or travel agents that are selling into the programs operated by IAATO member companies, as long as the logo is accompanied by the specific wording as described in Article III, Section J of the Bylaws.

IAATO logo

The IAATO logo can be downloaded in several resolutions from the IAATO Admin page.

Types of Membership


A basic understanding of the IAATO membership types is important, not only so you know exactly where your company or organization fits in, but also so that you are aware of the various rights and responsibilities that come with each type of membership. “Who gets to vote?” “Who can attend IAATO Annual Meetings?” “Why isn’t my company listed in the Membership Directory?” The answers to these questions all will be a little clearer with a solid grasp of this section of the Handbook.

Another useful document that is sometimes overlooked once you’ve joined, but which gives good membership information, is the IAATO Membership Application. This document can be downloaded on the IAATO Membership Application page.

Note also that there is a difference between “type” of member and “category” of member. The “type” is described just below; e.g., Operator or Associate member. The term “category” is used in IAATO parlance to describe the basic groupings of IAATO members by the manner in which their activities are organized. “Category” will be defined a bit further along in this section.


Simply put, Operators are organizers and operators of Antarctic tour programs, who operate travel programs to Antarctica at least once within every three consecutive Antarctic seasons, and take legal responsibility for their own activities and behavior – as well as those of their passengers – while in Antarctica, from both an IAATO and Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) perspective.

Operators are also the only voting members, since this privilege is reserved for this type of IAATO member. The Bylaws notes that Operators have achieved this status once they have fulfilled the requirements in Article III, Section B and Article X, as applicable.

Since Provisional Operator members must also meet these exact same requirements, let’s look at this type of membership and understand why not all Operator members are the same. We will then look at the requirements that both Operators and these Provisional Operators members must adhere to.

Provisional Operator members are organizers and operators of Antarctic tour programs, who operate travel programs to Antarctica at least once within every three consecutive Antarctic seasons, and take legal responsibility in the same manner as do “full” Operators. The important difference is that Provisional Operator members may request Operator (and voting) status if they desire to do so, preferably following one year of operation of their Antarctic tourism activity and once they have complied with the applicable requirements in Article X. In a sense, they are “provisional” members, with the expectation that they will want to become “full” or “voting” Operators. Provisional Operator members are invited to – and encouraged to attend – IAATO Annual Meetings, but are not permitted to vote.

Associate Members

As found in the second paragraph of Article III, Section H of the Bylaws, applications for Associate membership can be submitted at any time, and can be voted in at any time thereafter through an email balloting process, or at the Annual Meeting. However, applications for Operator membership or existing Provisional Operator members wishing to “step up” to become Members will only be considered at the Annual Meeting.

Associate Members are tour operators, travel agents or organizers who do not operate Antarctic tour programs themselves but book into other Operators’ programs as well as companies, organizations or even individuals with an interest in supporting Antarctic tourism and IAATO Objectives including: port agents, conservation or historic preservation organizations, suppliers, bunkering agents, and consulting companies. The important difference is that Associate members do not have the same legal obligations as Operators or Provisional Operator members who operate programs.

IAATO provides these members with networking opportunities, full access to the IAATO members-only area of the website and other useful information to help them stay current with Antarctic tourism issues. Associate members are invited to – and encouraged to attend – IAATO Annual Meetings, but are not permitted to vote.

Categories of IAATO Membership

Frequently, IAATO Members will refer to themselves as operators of Category 1, Category 2, Category 3 or Category 7 vessels. This is important relative to the Pre-Season IAATO Ship Scheduler, further described in that section of the Handbook. Category 2 vessels, for example, are restricted from visiting some of the more “sensitive” landing sites, whereas Category 1 and Category 7 vessels have the broadest access to the various landing sites.