KOROR Palau — While the island of Babeldaob readies for future tourism development hotels and tourism facilities in Koror Palau’s commercial center are upgrading.

Perhaps the largest renovation with $1 million worth of work on the pool and Jacuzzi complete is taking place at the Palau Pacific Resort and will be ongoing to 2007.

Manabu Komatsu general manager of the resort; told the Journal renovation of the 160 rooms is in the design stage and will include major plumbing upgrades. The hotel will also upgrade food and beverage outlets.

“We did the pool … we elevated the surface of the water it has an infinity edge. We changed the surface of the pool from concrete to mosaic ” Komatsu said. The pool constructed by Black Micro Corp. re-opened in July after a three-month closure. PPR also installed a Jacuzzi adjacent to the fitness center. “The Jacuzzi location was very isolated before and nobody used it because it was very dark. Now you can stay in the Jacuzzi and watch the sunset ” he said.

The rest of the upgrade will cost several million dollars though Komatsu declined to reveal specific sums early in the project. “We are now designing the new rooms ” he said. The motif would remain unchanged he said. “We will change all the beds and upgrade the bathrooms.” The hotel is intending to upgrade bathroom facilities to an electric combination toilet and bidet facility popular in Japan. He said such systems were possible at PPR because of the water quality. “We have our own reserve that’s why we can do it here.”

The Palasia Hotel in 2002 and 2003 upgraded carpets and curtains in its 165 rooms and suites and painted the hotel’s exterior at the same time. The Palasia is finalizing plans to upgrade function conference and convention facilities on its second floor. Andy Yang general manager at the Palasia; said “We are planning to tear out the partition.” Although Koror’s new cultural center would suite very large conference gatherings the Palasia plans to enlarge its facilities on the second floor to accommodate 200 persons. The facility can presently hold events for between 120 to 150 people. The hotel also plans additional painting in 2007.

The Cliffside Hotel Palau in Meyun now owned by Shallum and Mandy T. Etpison is also undergoing renovation of “more than $1 million ” according to Mandy Etpison who also manages the Etpison Museum and is vice chair of the Palau Visitors Authority. The boutique hotel which has 29 rooms and two suites will benefit from a variety of work including the addition of balconies. “We are working on the balconies and next month [November] on the façade ” Mandy Etpison said. “We have a new design for the façade.” Other improvements include renovation of the suits and rooms — to include new furniture and artwork and the addition of an exterior seating area. “It was 11 years old so it needed a lot of work ” she said.  

Managed by Nikko International the Palau Royal Resort Koror’s newest hotel with 160 rooms opened on June 28 2005. Other hotel developments in the offing include construction of a high-end Amman Resort on the site of the former Nikko Hotel at Ngermid Hamlet; a pending relationship between Amman Resorts Micronesian Development Corp. and its Taiwan partners on the site adjacent to the Amman property according to Midcorp officials; an upgrade already in progress at the former Marina Hotel adjacent to Fish ‘n Fins; and a small hotel in the center of Koror planned by Ignatio Anastasio owner of the IA Business Center and IA Rent-a-Car.

Darin De Leon managing director of the Palau Visitors Authority; told the Journal “The Amman Resorts are well known for their high caliber standards and exceptional services. These are properties that cater not only to high end markets but elite markets and to have such a resort in Palau is a major plus and privilege for Palau. Such a resort can definitely help Palau visitors Authority in its goal to target and attract high end tourism.”

De Leon said hotel and resort development should compliment the aim and goal of Palau to target the high end sector and to develop Palau as a choice destination. “We should look to attract investments that can and will contribute to the sustainability of our tourism industry through quality tourists as well as the sustainability of the republic’s economic growth.”

Koror is also the kick-off point for the Rock Islands and dive shops are prime indicators of the strength of the tourism industry. Dermot Keane general manager for Sam’s Tours; told the Journal Sam’s is investing about $500 000 in upgrading at the property with plans for a new compressor room new rental lockers new customer lockers and storage. Keane said other plans include paving the parking lot further remodeling work on the bar — Scott’s Bar and Grill upgrade of equipment and engines and possibly residential units. “Sam expressed an interest in some sort of hotel development. Where that will be I’m not sure.”

As to tourism numbers industry members said 2005 numbers were boosted by the South Pacific mini-Games in July and August. Visitors for 2005 reached 80 578.  Sam’s continues to search for other markets Keane said praising Continental Airline’s decision to change its schedule on the Koror-Manila route so European flights connect in Manila without an overnight layover. “That’s something we’ve wanted for a long time.” Keane lauded Continental’s Palau marketing efforts. They’ve always been very supportive. They advertise in all the North American magazines. They’re an often overlooked critical marketing partner.”

Asian Spirit also entered the Palau market in April flying between Koror and Davao City.

The Philippines Micronesia Alliance jointly promotes travel between resorts in the Philippines and Micronesia. Keane said “It was formed in Germany at the Boot Show almost three years ago. Sam’s was a founding partner. What we were trying to do was compete regionally on a national level and compete against the Red Seas the Caribbeans.  We have a cooperative marketing campaign about to begin in Europe. ” Members to date besides Sam’s include the Micronesia and Truk Lagoon Dive Center and a variety of resorts in the Philippines. “We are working on Yap ” he said. 

Tova Barnovski manages Fish n Fins with her husband Navot who has designed the boats at the dive shop including the two live-aboards and six day boats at the facility which have been undergoing renovation. Fish ‘n Fins improved its facility adding a restaurant and bar in 2002 and offering an Internet Café — Fish ‘n Web since 2003 and an associated dive filming service — Fish ‘n Films. A variety of clothing is also available. Clients come from around the world and many are repeat business. In 2002 the Barnovskis founded the Micronesian Shark Foundation. Tova Barnovski told the Journal “We get support from groups all over the world. We started doing research in Palau and we intend to expand in the region; we want to establish chapters in each island so we can protect them and conduct more research.” The foundation has hosted a pilot project each year and 36 divers took part in Shark Week in 2006. In 2007 Shark Week is from March 7 to 14.

Barnovski vice president of the Belau Tourism Association; has also found the time to put together a Palauan cookbook “A Taste of Rainbow’s End ” available at Bestseller stores in the Mariana Islands or directly from Fish ‘n Fins. The hardback complete with photos retails at $39.95.  MBJ