By Gaafar J. Uherbelau —-
Browsing online yesterday I came across a Lonely Planet article titled “Best beaches and small islands for travel in 2014”. Surprisingly I saw Palau first on the list which includes other places such as Trinidad & Tobago in the Caribbean, Sao Tome & Principe in Africa, Cook Islands, and Papua New Guinea to name a few. I say surprisingly because despite the fact that we’re consistently ranked among the best destinations in terms of diving, not much has been written about how Palau ranks overall as a tourism destination.
We always hear and read about Hawaii, Fiji and Tahiti as premier tropical destinations but we seldom hear about other nations in the Pacific, especially those in Micronesia. However, I think with the popularity of travel websites, magazines and social media, we are finally getting much needed exposure, which until recently had only been available through expensive marketing and promotions.
Even in Koror nowadays I see some businesses taking advantage of ratings that travelers have indicated on websites such as Tripadvisor.com about their businesses and using it as marketing tools. Travelers who frequently use this type of sites to research and plan their holidays are more likely to do business with establishments that have been mentioned or rated on these sites by other travelers. I guess they feel more comfortable spending money if they read from others that it’s worth it.
So it’s pleasing to know that we’re slowly becoming known, at least in the northern Pacific but I believe that we still have a long way to go before we’re comparable to the other more prominent island destinations. I think we should improve our infrastructures and transport services, not only for tourists but more importantly for Palauans.
We should ensure that our utilities are reliable, our internet access affordable and fast, our taxis clean with meters or at least with published standardized rates, and we need to train private and public sector employees in providing quality customer service. If we invest in the improvement of these services, we’ll be able to draw more tourists. And the more tourists travel to Palau, the greater the possibility becomes for airfares to be lowered.
We’ve already taken the best steps to ensure the conservation and sustainability of our environment, gaining acclaim along the way. So maybe we should start looking at the steps we need to take to further our reputation as a premier Pacific island destination.
I don’t think this means we should envision a Palau in 20 years with high-rises, big shopping malls and the latest technologies. On the contrary, I think we should find more effective and profitable ways to promote what we’ve always had over hundreds of years, which are our natural resources, our islands’ beauty and the Palauan culture and traditions. I can only predict that as big nations become more crowded, more polluted and more urbanized; people will be more willing to pay extra to experience what it feels like to be living in paradise. Worth er ngii.