President Tommy Remengesau Jr. assures the tourism industry members on Tuesday at the BTA general membership meeting that he sees a future growth in the tourism industry despite the decline in tourist numbers in recent years.
“It was with members of the tourism industry and the business community and the numbers they provided that led to the policy to cut down number of charter flights coming into Palau two years ago,” expressed the Remengesau at the meeting. The numbers led President Remengesau to issue an order cutting number of charter flights to Palau.
“I received a lot of flag for that decision. There were people that thought I was crazy saying that Palau needed that development,” he added. Palau could not handle 200 thousand people. The infrastructure like water, sewer, hospital and the environment could not handle those numbers according to Remengesau which led to cut down flights from Macao and Hong Kong to Palau.
The decline in number of visitors has been intentional, says Remengesau.
Remengesau reiterated that the government policy is to attract high-spending tourists than mass tourism.
Despite drop in tourism numbers in the last three years, government revenue shows increase in tourist spending. Departure taxes and hotel room tax dropped but other tax receipts show increased spending in other areas, which according to Remengesau reflects increase in high-spending visitors.
“This drop in visitor numbers has been a blessing in disguise. It has given us the opportunity to reflect on what we really want and what we need to do to have a sustainable tourism industry,” added Remengesau.
He cited the Tourism Framework bill as such policy to support sustainable tourism.
“I am just following what the majority of our people want, a manageable growth and sustainable growth,” Remengesau said.
On the issue of China and Taiwan vying for diplomatic influence in Palau, Remengesau said political ties remain with Taipei but it encourages and welcomes high- end investments from China and high spending tourists from Beijing.
“I want to make it clear that there is 10 percent of 1.5 billion very rich people from China, there are super rich people that can come to Palau,” Remengesau said.
The president admits that China’s diplomatic strategy is focused on private sector investments through building hotels and accommodation infrastructure.
The president urges Japan, United States, and other developed nations to also look in Palau as an investment destination.
“We in Palau wants to make sure that high – end is our desired goal,” Remengesau stated.
If Chinese investments are in the form of high-end development, Palau will not stop this kind of growth.
The president also urged the private sector to continually work with the government to ensure tourism growth.
“We need each other, government needs the private sector, the private sector needs the government and solution and problems can be both on our shoulder,” Remengesau said.
He also upbeat about the tourism industry’s future stating Palau is blessed with natural beauty. (Bernadette H. Carreon)