Responsible TourismPalau gamifies green travel by offering special cultural experiences to eco-friendly travellers.

Let the games begin: Sustainable tourism made rewarding

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Travellers who practise sustainable tourism initiatives while in Palau will be able to unlock exclusive experiences that’s usually only accessible to the locals.
Travellers who practise sustainable tourism initiatives while in Palau will be able to unlock exclusive experiences that’s usually only accessible to the locals. Photo Credit: GettyImage/Norimoto
Welcome to my humble abode

In the Palauan language, “Ol'au” is a way of calling out to a friend to invite them into your space. This word forms the principle of the Ol'au Palau initiative which grants travellers, who actively contribute to conserving Palau’s environment and culture, the ability to explore the locals’ way of life and be part of the community.

The global movement to drive sustainable tourism has seen many countries putting the onus on its hospitality and tourism players to go green. However in a recent turn of events, one country is putting responsible travel into the hands of its tourists instead.

Palau is the first country in the world to unveil this innovative new form of responsible tourism aimed at changing the way tourists interact with the environment and local culture.

Dubbed Ol'au Palau, this sustainable tourism model incentivises travellers to put eco-friendly practices into play. When a traveller performs a recommended eco-friendly activity, they will get rewarded with points that they can use to redeem exclusive travel experiences that are not available to the mass market.

Points can be collected via the Ol'au Palau app when travellers do things including but not limited to:
• Offsetting their carbon footprint using Palau's world-first personal carbon calculator
• Using reef-safe sunscreen
• Patronising businesses that are reducing their impact on the environment and culture
• Visiting culturally-significant tourism sites
• Eating sustainably-sourced local food, participating in regenerative tourism projects
• Avoiding single-use plastics
• Correctly answering a quiz about Palau's biodiversity and culture

Clocking up the points by actively engaging in these sustainable travel practices can then unlock cultural experiences that are normally reserved for Palauans and close friends such as:
• Accessing pristine parts of the island that have previously only been accessible to the local community
• Meeting elders and touring historic sites
• Going on stunning hikes that are off the beaten track
• Visiting villages for taro patch tours and lunch with the community
• Taking part in traditional fishing at secret spots
• Swimming at spectacular hidden caves
• Other highly tailored tours open only for Ol'au Palau guests

Ol'au Palau was launched by Palau's tourism sector in response to new global market research that revealed over 77% of people admitted that Covid-19 made them more aware of how damaging their behaviour can be to the environment, with 72% desiring to travel to sustainable holiday destinations. The country hopes that the new programme will become a model for other countries and destinations to follow.

"By launching Ol'au Palau we get to reward our most conscientious guests and protect our most highly-prized tourism asset: our pristine environment and unique culture,” said Alan T. Marbou, board member of Palau Visitors Authority. “We hope that Ol'au Palau will make more destinations think about the true cost of tourism and rethink who they reward with their best experiences.”

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