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How a tiny country in the Pacific is leading the way in sustainable tourism

The small nation of Palau in the northwest Pacific has launched a world-first initiative that will reward those who respect the environment.

Tread lightly, and under the new initiative ‘Ol’au Palau’, you’ll get points that will give you exclusive cultural experiences that others can only dream about.

The island country of Palau

Talk to a diver and they’ll tell you Palau is a small tropical archipelago renowned for its pristine limestone and volcanic islands and diverse marine life. These features make it one of the best dive sites in the world. Palau is also a hot spot for superyachts seeking an untouched nature escape. The environs here have to be seen to be believed.

In 2017, Palau launched the Palau Pledge to protect its natural environment. Travellers must sign the pledge to visit the country. It remains the only mandatory pledge in the world and stipulates they will preserve and protect the island.

What is Ol’au Palau?

Palau might be small, but it has big plans to maintain its unspoiled landscape. And Ol’au Palau is proof of the Republic of Palau’s commitment to do just that. The country was hit hard by the pandemic and the tourism industry was decimated. This initiative aims to help it bounce back. The name Ol’au Palau came from a play on the word Ol’au, which is a way of calling out to a friend

Palau Legacy Project Co-Founder Laura Clarke says the community is not only behind the project, it drove it. She says the elders want to extend a warm welcome to people who respect the country, so they can protect it for future generations.

Laura says the project’s global research shows it’s what tourists want too. “Ninety per cent of people said they want to experience a destination that has a natural environment and culture and learn how to preserve and protect it … and 72 per cent said sustainability and how its environment is preserved is an important factor. That is a paradigm shift.”

How does treading lightly translate to experiences?

For most of us, travelling to a new destination is about experiencing the culture. Imagine then, being able to access pristine parts of Palau that have never been touched by tourists. Select visitors can meet elders and tour historic sites. As well as visit villages for taro patch tours, traditional fishing at secret spots, or swimming at spectacular hidden caves. 

“It’s about having authentic experiences that they couldn’t get in another country,” Laura explains.

Ok, so how do I get in on it?

You can register for the app here, and it will be available for use in the coming weeks.

Get access to exclusive experiences by calculating your carbon footprint. It is based on where you flew from and offsetting that by buying local sustainably sourced food and visiting sites of cultural significance. Participate in regenerative tourism projects; avoid single-use plastics and correctly answer questions about Palau’s biodiversity and culture. Even starting small, like using reef-safe sunscreen, will see you reaping rewards.

“It’s about getting people excited. And the experiences they will get are only available to visitors who get involved,” says Laura.


Lead image: Palau © Cristina Mittermeier

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