Palau to welcome first tourists in a year with presidential escort | Taiwan | The Guardian
Palau to welcome first tourists in a year with presidential escort
Two-dogs beach in Palau’s Rock Islands, is a popular spot for tourists to have lunch. Palau is opening up to visitors from Taiwan under strict Covid-safe measures, but locals still have doubts. On Thursday, 110 people from Taiwan will be able to enjoy the thing so many around the world have been dreaming of since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic: an international holiday to a tropical island paradise. The tiny Pacific country of Palau, in the north-west corner of the Pacific with a population of around 20,000 people, will this week begin welcoming tourists from Taiwan as part of a travel bubble.Palau’s first visitors for more than a year will get the royal treatment, with Palau’s president travelling to Taiwan to personally escort them to the islands.For a chance to travel to Palau, one of Taiwan’s few diplomatic allies, Taiwanese must fork out between $2,100 and $2,800 to join a group tour booked via a travel agency. They must also tick a series of health regulation boxes, including an assurance that they have not left Taiwan within the past six months, and undergo a Covid-19 test at the airport.The trip itself is limited to fewer than eight days and will largely avoid crowded locations in Palau. But even with the rules in place, travel agents in Taipei say they have been getting enquiries since the bubble was announced on 17 March. KKDay, a popular travel startup offering discounts on bookings, has already sold out two Palau tours according to its website as well as more than 1,000 lottery tickets for a chance to win a spot on a multi-day tour.
Ngirai Tmetuchl, chairman of the board of Palau Visitors Authority, said the bubble would benefit both nations. Taiwanese tourists would get to “go to another country and enjoy the pristine waters of Palau” while his countryfolk could benefit from the boost to the archipelago’s economy, which is heavily reliant on tourism and which has been hit hard by the Covid-related border closures.Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for nearly 50% of Palau’s GDP, with Taiwan making up the third-largest group of tourists to the country, after China and Japan. Though the initial numbers arriving will be small, “Two hundred [tourists coming in the first two weeks] is more than zero, our options are zero or 200. We’ve been running on empty for a year, “ Tmetuchl said.On the itinerary for the tourists will be trips out to Palau’s famous Rock Islands and the idyllic turquoise Jellyfish Lake, where swimmers can float amongst million of gently-pulsating golden jellyfish, which have no stingers.Eledui Omelau, president of Palau’s Boat Owners Association said it had been a difficult year for Palauan boat owners, with most of them taking out loans to survive and that the prospect of Taiwanese tourists was welcome.“We have been hit hard, this travel bubble it’s a good opportunity for us, but at the same time we want to make sure we are ready,” Omelau said.