Ol’au Palau: Islands of Palau will reward tourists for travelling sustainably

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The tourism sector in the Republic of Palau, situated in the northwest Pacific, has announced Ol’au Palau: a new model of responsible tourism that aims to change the way people interact with the country’s pristine environment and local culture.  

Pre-Covid 19, tourism comprised 85% of Palau’s GDP, but when international travel collapsed in 2020, the country was hit hard by the pandemic with no visitors travelling to the island nation for nearly two years. Ol’au Palau aims to help the country bounce back from the pandemic and rebuild its tourism sector sustainably, by rewarding visitors for measurably protecting and preserving Palau during their stay.

Ol’au Palau was launched by Palau’s tourism sector in response to new global market research that revealed over three-quarters of people (77%) admitted that Covid-19 made them more aware of how damaging their behaviour can be to the environment, with 72% desiring to travel to sustainable holiday destinations.

In the local language, Palauan, “Ol’au” is a way of calling out to a friend to invite them into your space. This principle is the basis for the new initiative which creates a different type of tourism value exchange: one where visitors can accumulate points for demonstrating responsible and regenerative behaviour during their stay. In return, they can use those points to unlock access to unique experiences Palau has to offer. These experiences won’t be available to visitors who don’t participate or who don’t accumulate enough points during their stay.

The new research also revealed more than 90% of U.S. travellers surveyed want to experience a destination’s natural environment and culture and learn how to preserve and protect it during their stay. In addition, 87% said that they would spend more for a holiday in a destination that had a pristine, protected environment and culture.

Additionally, 89% of people would be more interested in visiting a country with this type of rewards program, and that participating would make them feel good about their holiday; and 85% said this idea would make them more likely to engage in positive behaviour when they visit a country.

​​With such strong positive sentiment toward travelling sustainably, Ol’au Palau is perfectly positioned to help lead the world into a new era of regenerative tourism.

Visitors to Palau will soon be able to accumulate points in the Ol’au Palau app by doing things such as offsetting their carbon footprint using Palau’s world-first personal carbon calculator, using reef-safe sunscreen, patronizing businesses that are reducing their impact on the environment and culture, visiting culturally-significant tourism sites, eating sustainably-sourced local food, participating in regenerative tourism projects; avoiding single-use plastics; and correctly answering questions about Palau’s biodiversity and culture.

This sustainable behaviour will be rewarded by unlocking cultural experiences that are normally reserved for Palauans and close friends. Some examples of these experiences include accessing pristine parts of the island that have previously only been accessible to the local community, meeting elders and touring historic sites, stunning hikes that are off the beaten track, visiting villages for taro patch tours and lunch with the community, traditional fishing at secret spots, swimming at spectacular hidden caves and other highly-tailored tours open only for Ol’au Palau guests.

With the negative environmental and cultural impacts of tourism becoming a concern globally, Palau hopes that the new program, informed by global research, will become a model for other countries and destinations to follow.

“Palau’s tourism industry has been hit hard by the pandemic with no visitors entering Palau for almost two years. Despite the economic impact, Palau’s tourism sector is determined to stick to its high-value ecotourism strategy and find a way to bounce back sustainably from the pandemic,” said Alan T. Marbou, Board Member, Palau Visitors Authority and former Speaker of the Koror State Government.

“By launching Ol’au Palau we get to reward our most conscientious guests and protect our most highly-prized tourism asset: our pristine environment and unique culture. The pandemic has provided our planet with a much-needed wakeup call and an opportunity to see what’s possible when nature has a chance to rebalance itself. We hope that Ol’au Palau will make more destinations think about the true cost of tourism and rethink who they reward with their best experiences.”

“We know from prior research that eco-tourists stay longer in a destination and spend over 50% more than regular tourists, so it makes sense for Palau to attract and reward like-minded visitors,” said Merkii Basilius, Manager, Travelr Palau.

Ol’au Palau is the latest in Palau’s history of world-first conservation and cultural preservation initiatives: it is home to the world’s first shark sanctuary, the first nuclear-free constitution, and it was the first to create a marine sanctuary that fully protects 100% of its territorial waters from commercial fishing.

In 2017, Palau also launched the Palau Pledge: a world-first immigration law that requires all visitors to sign a mandatory environmental pledge to Palau’s children that’s stamped into a visitor’s passport on arrival. The Palau Pledge educates visitors about their potential impact on Palau’s environment and culture and gives them guidelines to follow to help them keep their promise during their stay. In 2018 Palau Pledge became the most awarded communication campaign in the world and has since been replicated by other countries and destinations including New Zealand, Hawaii, and Finland.

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