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Will more destinations copy Palau’s sustainability incentives program?

Palau’s sustainability incentives program, called Ol’au Palau, aims to reward tourists with special experiences for how they support the island nation’s environmental and cultural health. This Guide is excited about the program because it’s about what we GIVE to a place. Approaching tourism from a perspective of giving, instead of getting, is transformative, for the destination and the tourist. Hopefully we’ll see more destinations adopt similar programs. Here’s what’s involved: 

How does Ol'au Palau work?

The premise is that, instead of showing up and just paying money for a bunch of special experiences, you’ve actually got to earn them through how you move and act on the islands. The more you care, the more you can access.

The program will have an app to download, which you can then use to record actions and score points. Based on the points you earn, you can unlock unique experiences that only locals typically have access to–things like diving trips to secret caves or homemade dinners on a private beach.

It’ll take time to earn the points. I like that this type of program encourages slow travel. It’ll take time to earn the points, and then it’ll take time to spend them on activities. So it incentivizes exploring the islands and the culture, not just burning tons of jet fuel to tick off a box on your bucket list and jet out again.

The app hasn’t launched yet, but you can go to the official Ol’au Palau website to register for notifications when it does. You can also follow the Ol’au Palau Instagram account.

The Ngerukeuid Islands, aka the 70 Islands of Palau. Like they're from a dream. Via Shutterstock.

What is special about Palau?

Palau is famous for protecting its unique marine ecosystems and tropical island scenery. The islands look ethereal, like the perfect cartoon image of lush tropical islands, ringed by white sandy beaches. There’s a shark sanctuary, a lake filled with jellyfish (you can swim in), and you can get a natural spa treatment with the white mud in the Milky Way Lagoon. 

How Palau cares for its coral reefs, and how they manage to handle acidification, might be a model for coral reef sustainability around the world: “Palau’s Improbably Healthy Coral Reefs

Palau maintains its indigenous governance system, alongside a democratic system of elected representatives. Bonus: the traditional system is matrilineal, with titles and responsibilities inherited down through the mother’s side of the family.

Damsel fish in Palau's Inner Lagoon, by Ethan Daniels, licensed from Shutterstock
Damsel fish swimming pretty in Palau's Inner Lagoon. Via Shutterstock

Where is Palau and how do you get there?

If you drew a triangle with Manila, Papua New Guinea, and Guam as the points, The Republic of Palau would be roughly in the middle of the triangle. 

Palau has a population of around 20,000 people, and over 500 islands. More than half of the population lives in Koror, the capital. Flying from Tokyo’s Narita airport, to Guam, to Roman Tmetuchl International Airport, near Koror, might be your easiest route.


Map showing the location of Palau

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  1. Pingback: Bhutan is tripling its daily Sustainable Development Fee for tourists • The Mindful Field Guide

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