The Bark EUROPA member of IAATO. IAATO is a member organization founded in 1991 to advocate, promote and practice safe and environmentally responsible private-sector travel to the Antarctic. Since the beginning of the modern Antarctic tourism industry in 1969, the number of tourists in Antarctica has grown from a few hundred to more than 30,000 each year. Recognizing the potential environmental impacts that such growing numbers of tourism could cause, seven private tour operators conducting excursions in Antarctica joined together in 1991 to practice and promote safe and environmentally responsible travel in this remote, wild and delicate region of the world.
Seven companies that had already been operating expeditions to Antarctica for several years founded the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators in 1991. The main impetus behind forming a global, non-profit industry association was two-fold: Firstly, the signing of the Antarctic Environmental Protocol in early 1991 by the Antarctic Treaty nations established rigorous standards beyond those already outlined in the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, which designated Antarctica as a "natural reserve dedicated to peace and science." The Protocol provided the framework for the continued protection of the Antarctic environment.
Secondly, by joining together, the companies were able to pool resources and lobby their national governments to develop substantive regulations and guidelines compatible with the best practices that were already being followed in the field. And so began IAATO's mission to advocate, promote and practice safe and environmentally private-sector travel to the Antarctic.
Commercial tourism to Antarctica started in the late 1950s when 500 or so fare-paying passengers traveled aboard Chilean and Argentine naval vessels each season to visit the South Shetland Islands on re-supply missions to research stations. The first vessel specifically built for the purpose of taking fare-paying passengers to Antarctica was the ice-strengthened m/v Lindblad Explorer built in 1969. She paved the way for tourists to visit and enjoy the world's last pristine continent by means of "expedition cruising" — defined by the industry as cruising coupled with education as a major theme. By the late 1980s, four companies were conducting ship borne tourism to the Antarctic as well as one land operator who pioneered commercial tourism flights to Antarctica in 1985. These flights took guests to a seasonal inland field camp for guided climbs, ski expeditions and other adventurous activities. By the 1991-92 season when IAATO was founded, approximately 6,400 tourists visited Antarctica, traveling aboard ten different expedition ships operated by six operators plus the land-based activities of the one land operator. New members continued to join at a steady pace.
Today, IAATO's membership is truly international and comprised of more than 100 respected companies from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, People's Republic of China, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States and the U.K. Overseas Territory-Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas). Membership includes ship and land operators, ship agents, travel agents, tourism bureaus, government offices, travel companies that charter ships and airplanes from existing operators, conservation organizations and expedition management companies.