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IAATO redevelops Ship Scheduler to manage Antarctic growth

No more than 100 passengers are allowed ashore at each site, with a staff to visitor ratio of 1:20 PHOTO: IAATO
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators is redeveloping its ship scheduling process as part of a commitment to ‘leave only footprints’ by the effective self-management of visitor activities.

IAATO has been monitoring, analyzing and reporting Antarctic tourism trends since 1991. Redeveloping the ship scheduler process is one of a series of actions the association is taking to manage for growth. IAATO has also introduced a mandatory observer scheme that will assess all member operators, their vessels and field camps for compliance with IAATO guidelines.

80,553 travelers forecast in 2019/20 season

IAATO expects 80,553 visitors will travel to the White Continent with tour operators from its 116-strong membership in the 2019/20 season. Of those, 18,420 will be cruise-only visitors, never setting foot on land. Of the remaining 62,133 forecast, the majority will depart from South America to experience the Antarctic Peninsula on vessels carrying fewer than 500 passengers, including 188 who are anticipated to travel by yacht. Some 733 will fly to the Antarctic interior with ‘deep-field’ companies.

(The last statistics reported by Seatrade Cruise News were from the 2017/18 season, when Antarctic visitation increased 17%, to 51,707 tourists.)

IAATO has long taken a proactive role in managing pressure on the Antarctic environment so that visitors have no more than a minor or transitory impact. Part of this work involves the annual launch of the IAATO Ship Scheduler, a database which has used IAATO and Antarctic Treaty System requirements to set limits on time, number of passengers allowed and number of daily visits to sites around the Antarctic coast for almost two decades.

Managing visits per day and numbers ashore

The ship scheduler, introduced in the early 2000s, also provides the basis for coordination between IAATO member vessels. Each vessel knows where the others will be and the visits are planned and confirmed well in advance of the start of the season. Each approved Antarctic landing site has a maximum number of ship visits allowed per day and no more than 100 passengers ashore, with a staff to visitor ratio of 1:20.

'IAATO is comprised of more than 100 companies with a real passion for Antarctica and an ardent desire to preserve its incredible landscape and wildlife for future generations,' IAATO Executive Committee Chair Mark van der Hulst said. 'Having diligently monitored visitor numbers for many years, we know that numbers have grown. This practice has meant we can recognize trends and patterns season upon season and foresee any challenges or opportunities ahead.

'We have a track record of stringent, proactive self-management and the decisions to review and improve our already robust ship scheduling processes build on that.'

Streamlining vessel-to-vessel communications

The redevelopment of the Ship Scheduler will meet increasing vessel and management needs and offer a solution for streamlining vessel-to-vessel communications. The project was announced on May 3 during IAATO’s annual meeting in Cape Town.

The scheduler redevelopment joins a host of measures introduced by IAATO during its 3.5-day day annual meeting, including a unanimous 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 (drones) and robust adjustments to visitor guidelines for activities on the Antarctic peninsula.

New code of conduct, mandatory observer scheme

Included are a new code of conduct for vessel operators, implementing a mandatory observer scheme, support for the development of Marine Protected Areas and approval to expand research into the health of penguin populations at visitor sites.

IAATO and its counterpart in the northern hemisphere, the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators, introduced guidelines that will arm visitors to the polar regions with responsible solutions for reducing their waste and plastic footprint.

'Work to redevelop the IAATO Ship Scheduler has been under way since last year, beginning with a database upgrade, but our latest full membership meeting was an opportunity to share with our members and polar partners what a more robust, future-proof system could look like,' said Lisa Kelley, head of operations.

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