BY LEILANI N. REKLAI
Palau Correspondent

Tmetuchl

KOROR, Palau —Tourism recovery for Palau has not been as robust as earlier projected.  Now projection of a more consistent recovery is expected toward the latter part of this year and into the first quarter of 2023.  

The lack of direct flights from key markets such as Korea, Europe, and Japan as well as restrictive travel regulations in place, contribute to the slow recovery of the tourism industry.

“We are hoping the easing of the four-day testing will help Korea re-establish flights,” said Ngirai Tmetuchl, minister of Human Resources, Culture, Tourism & Development and chairman of the Palau Visitors Authority. 

“We are exploring with Guam flights to connect Korea-CNMI-Guam-Palau.  The challenge is a large chunk of Korea passengers to Palau were transiting passengers from Europe and the U.S. — lots of moving parts,” he said.

The health directive issued on May 30 by Palau’s Ministry of Health & Human Services on entry measures continues to require travelers entering Palau to be vaccinated, although it now allows unvaccinated persons under 18 years of age to enter. The directive still requires that a traveler have a negative COVID-19 PCR test result or a negative COVID-19 antigen test.

Travelers are no longer required to undergo the Day 4 testing after arrival in Palau, although they may still be required to take a test before departure if required by their country of origin.

Palau Pacific Resort’s Pristine Villas and Bungalows opened in 2019. Only certain facilities are currently open at the resort.
Journal file photo

However, the recovery effort has a long way to go.

The first quarter 2022 visitors arrival report had 1,536 arrivals, compared to more than 41,000 in the first quarter of 2020.

The gap demonstrates the extent of the recovery effort needed.

“Tourism has not rebounded as much as we have hoped,” said President Surangel S. Whipps Jr. He said that U.S. military activities in Palau in the coming months — which will contribute to visitor numbers by the hundreds — will help, but added that even with that, the total of arrivals “is still lagging.”

Tmetuchl said Palau and its partners are working on joint promotion efforts in Japan and Korea.

During Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi’s visit to Palau on May 8, Whipps requested his assistance to get more direct flights between Palau and Japan.

Palau acted to jump-start its tourism recovery quite early on by pushing for the establishment of a “travel bubble” with Taiwan in April 2021, until COVID hit Palau. The republic also pushed for high vaccination of its population, exceeding the 100% rate of its eligible population. Its local COVID recovery efforts included government subsidies to private businesses, particularly tourism sector businesses to help with preparation for the return of visitors.

Such efforts have not seen the anticipated robust recovery, due to COVID recovery at different stages in Palau’s source markets and the international transportation industry still in a state of flux. mbj