Inspirational Destination: Palau

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Palau (Micronesia)

“We are committed to promote our heritage and the unique attractions of Palau through sustainable tourism development and the encouragement of responsible practices.”

Palau is a country in Oceania (Micronesia). It is the 13th smallest country in the world and has 21,000 inhabitants spread over 340 islands. The largest place is Koror with around 14,000 inhabitants. In 2018, 106,309 tourists arrived, good for 522,587 overnight stays. The most important countries of origin are China, Japan, South Korea and Japan. Palau is especially popular for walking tours, bird watching, diving and water sports.

The number of tourists compared to the number of inhabitants leaves its ecological footprints on the island. There is corruption, pollution of the sea water and litter. Palau does a lot to protect its flora and fauna. That is not the only concern of Palau, because with an increase in sea level the island threatens to disappear completely into the sea. This is expected to be the case if global warming will be more than 1.5 degrees.

An example of the impact of tourists on natural values can be seen at a major attraction on the island: Jellyfish Lake. The lake is full of harmless jellyfish and it is a special experience to swim in this jellyfish lake. Once 8 million jellyfish swam around here, but there were fewer and fewer. The lake was therefore closed for more than a year at the end of 2017, but it is now open again. Because sun block is suspected to be a major cause of the decline, it is no longer permitted to swim in the lake with sun block. From 2020, sun block is even completely banned on the island, because it would also affect the coral.

In other words: Palau has many natural values and is actively working to protect this. Palau inspires us because of its approach to keeping the economy (tourism) and ecology in balance, with the highlight being the Palau Pledge.

Palau Pledge

With the large and growing flow of tourists, the economy of Palau is being strengthened. But a more sustainable approach was necessary to ensure that tourism would not become an ecological disaster. The Havas agency was asked to work out a campaign.

The challenge here was the quite different cultural approaches to traveling between the different Asian target markets. It was therefore decided to appeal to the ‘humanity’ of the tourist. That is why it was decided to ask tourists to do something “for those who come after us”: the children of Palau. Because who can be against leaving a better world for our children?

The entire customer journey and touch points of the tourists were mapped: from dreaming to the experience phase (the visit) and sharing afterwards. This eventually led to the Palau Pledge.

Every visitor receives a stamp in their passport at customs. In the stamp is a text with which visitors make a promise to the children of Palau to protect their homeland. Every visitor is obliged to sign this statement and thereby makes an official promise. Immigration legislation has even been specially amended to include this declaration as a mandatory part of the immigration process. For example, incoming flights are also required to show a video about the Palau Pledge.

The Palau Pledge has been widely translated into means of communication, signing and campaigns. But the inhabitants of Palau themselves have also made the statement: from the president to the inhabitants. The program has been translated into a broad education program with education programs in primary and secondary schools. And finally in a series of legal instruments to take action against tourists who violate the rules and thus the content of the statement.

Nature protection from your own identity

For example, there is a legend about the Ngerchokl river lake that would have its origin as “a fountain of youth”. This is supposed to have come as a reward for an older couple who would have planted a ti plant. Later an older woman and her granddaughter find the place. The older woman rejuvenated after bathing. But the granddaughter moans about the loss of the “old-self” of her grandmother and finally convinced her to reverse the process. These stories are therefore applied as a lesson for the economic and environmental challenges that Palau faces today.
An example is the campaign that is linked to the Palau Pledge. Here an explicit link is made with myths and legends and a major role is reserved for a giant.

The Micronesian Challenge

The protection of natural and cultural values is not limited to Palau. There is cooperation between different countries within Micronesia through The Micronesian Challenge. The aim is to effectively maintain at least 30% of the marine coastline and 20% of the territorial waters. This may not seem like much, but only 10% has been agreed internationally.

The nature values are worth protecting, as some figures also show:

  • 66: number of species in Micronesia included on the IUCN Red List
  • 1.300: species of fish that live in the waters of Micronesia
  • 1400: plant species (including 200 endemic)
  • 85: bird species (of which 50% endemic)

In 2015, Palau took the lead by declaring most of its territorial waters as a marine reserve. An area as large as 500,000 square kilometers (as large as California) where commercial fishing and oil extraction are prohibited.