Visa bill creating anxiety among stakeholders
By: L.N. Reklai
(Koror, Palau) A proposal to reinstate the recently repealed visa requirement has the members of the tourism industry, business community and State government asking OEK and President Remengesau to hold off until further studies have been done on its possible impact.[restrict]
House bill 9-203-22s, HD1, SD3, carries riders to clarify language of the recently passed RPPL 9-62 to include State blocks grants and $50 social security benefit payment. The Senate version added the visa requirement that was removed by RPPL 9-62.
“The uncertainty about new visa legislation has been distressing and confusing for local industry members, our partners abroad and potential visitors thinking about travelling to Palau,” stated a joint letter from Palau Chamber of Commerce and Belau Tourism Association to Speaker Sabino Anastacio of the House of Delegates.
Both entities also expressed that the amount of the fee is not the issue but the “unusually scattered and poorly administered number of government fees as well as the ambiguity associated with how these fees are utilized” have industry stakeholders concerned.
Peleliu State Government Joint Leadership letter to both houses of OEK also expressed their concern about the visa fee proposal.
Citing that tourism revenue to their State represents 48% of their annual budget, the letter states that “we strongly believe that requiring visas with corresponding fees to tourists and foreign visitors to enter Palau will have a devastating and negative impact to the tourism industry at this time….We recommend that we revisit this issue sometimes in the future when we are comfortable with level of tourism economic development in the Republic.”
Advocating the implementation of the visa requirement, Senator Surangel Whipps Jr. had made public presentations that the national government stands to lose millions of dollars if it did not implement the visa fee and delay the implementation of the Environmental Impact Fee.
Senator Whipps Jr. further reiterated in statements made during the recent Presidential debate that Palau’s beauty is worth the price.
Both Chamber of Commerce and BTA state that past visitor surveys show that they are willing to pay higher fees “so long as procedures for payments are unobtrusive and there is transparency in how the fees are used.”
Both entities do not believe that the government is ready to deliver this “unobtrusive” service on October 1 of this year as proposed.
Letters from Belau Tourism Association, Palau Chamber of Commerce, Peleliu State Government Leadership and letters from groups of tourism operators have requested both OEK and the Executive Branch to forgo the visa fee and conduct comprehensive study on the impact of such fee in addition to all other existing fees imposed by national and State governments.[/restrict]