Last month, China told its tourist agencies to stop all flights to the Pacific island nation of Palau, in what’s believed to be a protest over a recent visit by the President of Taiwan. Chinese tourists made up more than half of Palau’s tourists last year, but, as we hear from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute, Palau doesn’t seem worried.
The Palau Visitors Authority recorded 87,000 visitors from China last year – almost all on package tours. And while the loss of more than half its tourist traffic might seem catastrophic, President Tommy Remengesau has been working to reduce that surge of tourists.
Earlier this year, the President announced plans to limit new hotel construction to five star facilities to attract fewer, but more affluent visitors from Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United States.
Now an analysis by the Asian Development Bank agrees that the rapid growth of what it called “low end tourism” threatens to overwhelm Palau’s natural attractions, including its two World Heritage sites. The ADB argues that high value tourism would put much less pressure on a population of only 22,000 or so.
And Taiwan can be expected to make up for some of the loss as well.
Palau is among a dwindling few nations to maintain full diplomatic relations with Taipei and it welcomed Tsai Ing-wen on the Taiwanese President’s recent Pacific tour. China’s reaction was seen as economic pressure on Palau to reconsider the value of its relations, not just with Taiwan, but with the United States as well. Along with three other Pacific nations, Palau has a Compact of Free Association with the U.S. which, among other obligations, makes Washington responsible for Palau’s defense. There are no U.S. troops in the country, but earlier this year, the Pentagon announced plans to install new radar systems to monitor air and sea traffic.