In mid-August, the society’s technical director, Kelvin Passfield travelled to Palau for a Pacific regional meeting on the CBA projects that are being implemented around the Pacific.
He says it was a great opportunity to share the information on project progress, as well as hear what is happening in the other Pacific Islands undertaking projects under the same Australian-funded global grant.
“Another unexpected learning experience arose through the opportunity provided to compare the tourism development in Palau with that here in the Cook Islands.
“Palau has approximately the same population as the Cook Islands, and receives the same number of tourists. Tourism is concentrated around Koror State and Arai State, in much the same way as Rarotonga and Aitutaki attract the majority of tourists in the Cook Islands.
“One obvious difference is that Palau has approximately double our land area, while we have three times their ocean area.
“However, in their marine space, they have many attractions such as the Jellyfish Lake and Milky Way which are easily accessible, and a major drawcard for tourists. Most of their tourists come from China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea, many on package tours, while our tourists are mainly from New Zealand, followed by Australia, with less focus on mass tourism.”
Passfield says a recent ban by China on selling package tours to Palau has resulted in a significant decrease this year in tourists from China.
“The other important thing about Palau is how they fund their Protected Area Network (PAN). This again has connections to the Cook Islands, as they got the idea for the Green Fee which funds their PAN from the Cook Islands way back in the early 1990s.
“This was when the Cook Islands imposed an extra $5 fee on departing passengers as an Environment Protection Fee.
“Palau charges a $15 green fee, added into the departure tax, which is allocated to fund the Protected Area Network throughout the country. This is on top of hefty individual entry permit fees for Jellyfish Lake and the Rock Islands of US$100 each.
“Unfortunately for the Cook Islands, we dropped the ball on that environment fee soon after it was implemented, and the money in any case never got to really support any conservation effort. Palau learnt from our mistakes, and have made their Green Fee a very successful way to fund their protected areas network.
“Now we have come full circle, and the Cook Islands Marae Moana is looking for ways to establish a sustainable financing mechanism for protected areas in the Cook Islands, under the Marae Moana umbrella. No doubt the consultants selected to work on this will be looking very closely at the Palau example of funding their Protected Areas Network.”
There is another lesson to be learned by the Cook Islands from Palau, Passfield adds.
“Palau has gone down the track of mass tourism, and in doing so has become aware of the significant environmental and social impacts this can have on their small country. The president of Palau was recently quoted as saying the recent ban on Chinese tours by the Chinese government may actually be a blessing in disguise, because of the impacts of this number of (visitors) on their country.
“The Cook Islands tourism sector may be wise to take note, lest we also fall victim to the impacts of mass tourism from Asia in future.”
- This weekly column is supplied by Te Ipukarea Society. It deals with environmental and conservation matters of interest to the Cook Islands.