After months of collaboration and discussion with Antarctic gateways, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators is now preparing for the Antarctic travel season.
On September 16, the organization celebrated its 30th anniversary. A few days back held a meeting to discuss the future of operations, following the release of COVID-19 parameters regarding travel from Antarctic Gateways Argentina and Chile.
Gina Greer is the Executive Director of IAATO. She said that "The past year and a half has been difficult as we've learned more COVID-19 and we and our member have continually been re-evaluating whether a season would be feasible." This has required flexibility and agility on the part of our members, and discussions are ongoing as the season gets closer.
Over the past 16 months, more than 100 members from around the world have been diligently working to provide keystone recommendations on COVID-19 protocols for Antarctic operations that will resume in late 2021. This work was largely done in close collaboration with Antarctic gateway nations.
Some members made the difficult decision to not operate in the 2021/22 season. However, the majority of the group is continuing preparations.
IAATO's strength is its willingness to put aside competing interests to work together for Antarctica. This includes sharing best practices and safe operations. In June 2020, IAATO's COVID-19 Advisory Group was formed.
To lead the organization through the pandemic, the CAG has used the strengths, skills and experience of IAATO’s existing committees, working groups, as also the industry standards and expertise of the secretariat.
The traditional Antarctic season is nearing, and the CAG continues to monitor global developments. It communicates with Antarctic Gateway countries as well as other polar stakeholders, and shares regular updates with its members.
Initiative guidance has been released by gateway governments over the past two months. Operators are unsure if some requirements can be met due to the diversity of IAATO membership. This includes yachts that carry no more than 12 persons and large cruise ships.
Greer said: "Our work together with the Antarctic Gateway authorities are a crucial part of pre-season preparations. It is important for IAATO and its member that the diversity in the IAATO membership be reflected within gateways COVID-19 protocols, so that they can apply to all responsible tourism providers.
"It was encouraging to see the recent guidance provided by Chile and Argentina in Antarctic tourism. However, it is going to be difficult for some operators to implement. We are still working with the Gateway authorities to answer many of these questions.
IAATO's pre-season preparations for the Antarctic season continue. IAATO operators must have a permit from an Antarctic Treaty Party, relevant government or other authority to operate. They will need to submit their Advance Notification and Environmental Impact Assessment (IAATO) before the Antarctic season.
Although the pandemic's impact has presented challenges to the association and its members IAATO continues to promote safe and responsible Antarctic tourism. The IAATO Committee's and Working Group's efforts over the past year have helped the organization to improve its policies and strategies for protecting Antarctica and to allow Antarctic travelers to have an enriching and safe experience.