Palau: A Future in Ecotourism?

Palau: A Future in Ecotourism?


By Annie Vanderwyk


To discuss the development of ecotourism as a viable option for sustainable development in developing countries, it is important to first understand the basic tenets of ecotourism as opposed to the universal traits of mass tourism. As a general guide, The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) subscribes to the following definition of ecotourism: "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people".


In contrast, the history of mass tourism has been firmly positioned within the recreation industry and tailored to the needs of the visitor with little regard for host community cultural conservation beyond the obligatory cultural performances and purchasable artifacts. However, little work has been done to explore the beliefs and actions embedded in the consciousness of expatriate members and permanent residents of local communities that directly affect the day to day sustainability of some of the most fragile and beautiful environments on earth.


The tiny Republic of Palau offers much that fits the definition of real ecotourism. Palau is a magnificent tropical island group situated near the Federated States of Micronesia. Most visitors to Palau arrive on Continental Micronesia, by way of daily regular flights from Guam. Palau enjoys a modest tourism industry with 94,894 international visitors in 2004. Palau's total population of only 20,303 includes a high number of expatriates, many tied to government advisory positions and tourist services industries.


In 2005, I visited Palau to attend a wedding. The young Australian bride and Swiss groom had worked as tour operators in Palau for four years. They managed to weave an environmental attitude, motivated by a primary love of Palau and its diverse environments into a wedding never to forget.


During my two week stay, I experienced a total immersion into the ecological beauty and cultural wonders of Palau.


The colorful history of Palau is vibrantly displayed in the faces of the local population, architecture, monuments, museums and bustling street life. This long history is reflected in what is to be found underwater with a seascape of war time ship and submarine wrecks to explore snorkeling and diving. The marine life is abundant and the colors of the land and sea crisp and vital. Within this expatriate population that I found a level of environmental and cultural respect toward local environment and Palauan culture, reflecting an innate understanding of the tenets and potential of ecotourism in this country.


The Palauan government Marine Protection Act (1994) has served the marine environment well to date, preserving a pristine environment supporting a healthy coral and diverse marine population. The Marine Protection Act is the basis for much of the management measures for the inshore fisheries at the national level. It places restrictions on fishing gear, fishing seasons, and exports of certain threatened fish and shellfish. A strict policing of marine park fees also protects the fragile marine environments surrounding Palau.


For Palau the future is complex, even though the government through the leadership of President Tommy Esang Remengesau, Jr. is dedicated to the preservation of their Islands and waters and the economic sustainability of Palau. Ecotourism could reveal itself as a viable economic factor in a fragile economic climate for the burgeoning Republic of Palau. 


About TIES

As the world's oldest and largest international ecotourism association, TIES seeks to be the global source of knowledge and advocacy uniting communities, conservation, sustainable travel..




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The Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference will highlight global challenges and local opportunities, supporting sustainable development of tourism and promoting solutions that balance conservation, communities and sustainable travel.

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