‘Don’t put all eggs in one basket’

Remengesau also stresses message of environmental stewardship
Republic of Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr. was the keynote speaker during the Marianas Tourism Education Council Tourism Summit yesterday at the Pacific Islands Club Saipan (Frauleine Villanueva-Dizon)

Republic of Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr. was the keynote speaker during the Marianas Tourism Education Council Tourism Summit yesterday at the Pacific Islands Club Saipan (Frauleine Villanueva-Dizon)

Carrying with him a renowned and trademark message of environmental stewardship, Palau president Tommy Remengesau acknowledged yesterday the universal problem of growing island economies attempting to maintain the balancing act of controlling impacts as they try to increase revenue.

“It’s a common challenge every time you promote tourism,” Remengesau told reporters during a press conference yesterday afternoon at the Hyatt Regency Saipan. “Tourism being the main industry.”

The president noted the tendency for promotional groups to concentrate heavily on their respective goals but that, at the end of the day, it came down to a matter of “balancing out” markets, as one market can easily overtake another—“if there are no precautionary matters in place.”

“We all realize the value of the Chinese market,” he said. “It’s very aggressive. It’s coming in, and it’s a good thing. But every time it grows to a situation—where it seems to be a sole provider or the sole market—then that’s not a healthy thing.”

Remengesau addressed Palau’s recent cut down in Chinese charters flights to the island nation. He said Palau’s tourist numbers would have hit 200,000 tourists—numbers that heavily tax their infrastructure—if they had not taken this route. “Palau’s sewer system is made to cap at about 200,000 to 300,000,” said the president. And as they are still undergoing improvement and renovations to these, they “couldn’t afford to reach that maximum ceiling.”

Still, even with the cut-downs, the nation still reached a record high number of 160,000 tourists—about 20,000 more than last year, he said. Palau is looking at new source markets, he said, like the European and North American market and travelers from Russia, Japan, and Korea.

“Throughout the history of the Micronesia and the region, we’ve seen it happen,” Remengesau said, where the region “relied too much on Japan” and “it’s bubble burst” and “everything fell flat.”

The region has “lessons to learn” from this, he said. “…You don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

The president also addressed the exit fees—reported to about $50—that Palau charges on tourist leaving the nation. He called this an important position to take to ensure they get “the right quality of tourists.”

“Who respect the environment and are willing to pay the environmental impacts fee,” he said, noting that these fees help fund their protected area networks. The idea is, if they protect their marine protected areas, they protect the reason tourists come to Palau.

Common challenges and casinos

Remengesau also met with Gov. Ralph DLG Torres yesterday to talk about the CNMI and Palau playing a major role in the region. He called issues faced by the CNMI, Guam, and Palau sometimes unique to each respective island but there were still domestic and regional challenges that they share. “Because we can have limited revenues, we can certainly tackle these problems efficiently by sharing our ideas,” he said.

“Saipan is going through a challenge of not having enough contract workers to accomplish many of the construction projects. This is absolutely a similar situation in Palau. We have a lot of construction activities, a lot of capital improvement projects that are not being done on time because we don’t have the labor force to complete them. We have a unique and common problem.”

On the topic of casinos, Remengesau shared with Torres the fact that some of Palau’s congressmen have been on island to look at what Saipan’s casino and gaming license has done to improve the islands, he said, calling this information critical to understand “the reality” of the industry.

“A couple of years ago, Congress sent their representatives here to look at the casino legislation that Saipan was entertaining and since then it has been enacted into law and now we see the company here doing businesses,” he said. “From what I’m told, there is employment happening and there has been some good, immediate impact as a result of that investment being issued a license.”

Still, it would be up to the people of Palau if casinos were to be allowed in the nation, he said.

“We have taken a referendum and the message was very clear. But it’s not say the issue would come up again.”

“Unless I know more about it, I continue to take the stand that Palau is not ready for it,” he added.

Remengesau said investments that are arriving on Palau are geared toward ecotourism such as snorkeling, diving, and bird watching—which is showing a surprise uptick—along with water sports and catch-and-release programs.

“Ecotourism seems to be a main target. As you know, we don’t have a casino. There’s no casino allowed in Palau. We don’t have a golf course. It’s really just the natural beauty of the environment right now that is the main attraction for people.”

Environmental message

On his environmental message to world leaders, Remengesau said, “Responsibility is the key word.” “We are born to an island community that is blessed with the natural environment. But with it comes the responsibility to also care for it and to make sure we leave it the way it is as we found it.”

This is a matter of culture, traditions, and customs. “We are taught in our younger years that we have to respect the environment.”

“This is not something new that you have to legislate. It’s actually a tradition,” he said. “Merely putting that into a policy by law is reinforcing the culture and the tradition of the land.”

Palau leads participating island nations and territories in the Micronesia Challenge—where participating members are tasked with setting aside 30 percent of their near shore resources and 20 percent of their terrestrial resources for conservation by 2020.

Palau has instituted the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, which is 80 percent of its total exclusive economic zone.

The president said the latest statistics show that every member still needs to reach their target to accomplish that goal. This includes Guam, the CNMI, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. “Everyone has made progress but I still think there is some things left to do to reach that target.”

US-island relationship

Remengesau also stressed the need for a genuine partnership with their “closest friend” the United States.

Asked if the nation would balk at military training similar to the large-scale proposals planned in the CNMI, the president said they would welcome training with U.S. Coast Guard patrols, marine surveillance and environment, and aerial surveillance satellite monitoring.

“Because those are mutual benefits,” he said.

As Palau’s marine sanctuary—roughly 600,000 square kilometers and roughly the size of France or the state of Texas—they’re biggest challenge is surveillance and enforcement. If water ocean exercises were conducted jointly with their small marine enforcement, it could be a “win-win.”

“With one patrol boat and three small in-shore patrols, Palau finds it difficult to cover that whole area, Remengesau said. “This is a situation where Coast Guard and U.S. Navy vessels could play an important role” in surveillance that would help stop illegal fishing and even illegal contraband.

“Lord knows what’s being also transported in those cargoes,” he said.

Brought to the topic of the CNMI’s own Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, he acknowledge “extensive resources” would be needed to realize its potential.

“I think the CNMI—by it’s relationship—is a lot closer to the U.S. to be able to forge an effective partnership. For us, the available technology is very important. You need satellite-monitoring technology, more than really the hardware.

“We have enacted laws to take those pictures and present them in court as evidence. You don’t really need to catch those vessels red-handed. You can use those satellite pictures” as evidence to prosecute.

Remengesau also visited hundreds of students yesterday at the Pacific Islands Club during the Marianas Tourism Educational Council event, to further the environmental message.

“Visitors need to feel like they are safe” and at home to experience culture and beauty of the islands. “That’s something we have to plant in the minds of our students as early as possible,” he said. “That’s the island culture.”

He came away pleased to see the event focus on range of fifth grade to senior high school students. “We don’t need to wait until they are older to instill these values” on the importance of protecting oceans and tourists, he said.

Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at

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