China’s tourists form a lucrative demographic that has had tourism bureaus around the world tailoring experiences to attract the millions increasingly interested in overseas travel. However, since the tiny island nation of Palau became a favorite vacation getaway for Chinese tourists, local resources and capabilities have been strained. And now Palau's president is taking a step that he believes will improve the situation.
Unlike the United Kingdom or the United States, both top destinations for Chinese tourists, Palau’s tourism board does not have the resources or infrastructure to handle an influx of Chinese travelers. According to a report by Agence France-Presse, Chinese tourists represented 62 percent of all visitors to the Micronesian island in February, a 16 percent jump from the year before. Palau’s tourism statistics show that Chinese citizens represent a majority of their growing tourism market, with the number of Chinese visiting totaling 10,955, which is more than half of the local population.
“This is a very sudden influx, so we are trying to understand the situation,” Nanae Singeo, managing director of the Palau Visitors Authority, said in the report. “We have never experienced this much tourism before and the magnitude is really giving us a lot of pressure. We are a very tiny country with scarce resources, so this sudden increase is an unknown challenge for us.”
China’s interest in Palau is beneficial for the local economy, where tourism accounts for nearly 85 percent of the GDP. However, the influx of visitors has been met with criticism as well, with concerns over long-term environmental repercussions. While visitors are welcome to observe the natural wonders that Palau’s unique ecosystem provides, the sheer number of visitors threatens the preservation of the area's natural landscape and wildlife.
In response to increasing concerns from residents, Palau’s president, Tommy Remengesau, has halved the number of flights coming from China next month. Remengesau ensures that the move is not to criticize the nation’s Chinese visitors, but rather to alleviate pressure on the local environment and tourism bureaus. “It will be irresponsible for me as a leader if this trend continues,” he said. “I am not only looking at the present but, as a leader, I am looking after tomorrow.”
Tourists from China have hit record-breaking numbers, matched with record spending. Chinese government statistics from January found that tourists spent a record $164.8 billion overseas in 2014.