The Bureau of Tourism (BOT) plans to have restaurants, accommodations, and tour operators certified in “pandemic-safe” regulations within the first half of March.
With the assistance of the other members of Tri-Org, Palau Visitors Authority (PVA) and Palau Chamber of Commerce (PCOC), BOT’s Pandemic Safety Certification Program aims to train businesses in Palau’s tourism industry to host visitors amidst a pandemic. The certification program will require businesses to develop contingency plans to prepare for an active COVID case and will help to promote Palau as a “safe and responsible” tourism destination.
The program was developed in line with the President’s desire to open Palau “safely and responsibly” to limited tourism by the end of March.
The BOT has already “trained the trainers”, 18 individuals from the tourism industry of Palau who have been certified under the Pandemic Safety Certification Program. These representatives, who attended a training workshop by the BOT on January 18 and 19 at Palau Community College, represent four sectors of the tourism industry: accommodations, restaurants, public tour operations, and private tour operations. Along with BOT representatives, the plan is for these individuals to train businesses from their sectors in the Pandemic Safety Certification Guidelines, in presentation-based workshops.
Acting Director Fabian Iyar of the BOT said that he encourages all companies involved in Palau’s tourism industry, particularly in these sectors, to send representatives to the upcoming workshops in order to get trained in the new regulations. Doing so will not only certify businesses in the tourism sector to accommodate visitors if the virus ever reaches Palau but will open the door for “ongoing communication within the industry . . . to share good information and best practices” in the event of an emergency, he said.
While Tri-Org still needs to finalize the schedule for moving forward with the certification, right now the plan is to inform the public of this schedule by early next week, and to start conducting trainings by mid-February. BOT plans to offer three workshop options for every sector, with three trainers per workshop.
This is done in the hope that it will give businesses enough time to prepare and be certified during the first half of March.
Trainings will include one or two representatives from every tourism-related business, who will in turn train their staff in the guidelines. Once businesses are prepared with the necessary systems and materials in place, they will contact BOT to receive a “spot-check”, which will qualify them to accommodate tourists. Certified businesses will receive a certificate and stickers, demonstrating that they are “safe” to host visitors in the event of a COVID case.
The Pandemic Safety Certification Guidelines require businesses to optimize safe practices such as social distancing, mask-wearing, and availability of sanitizers and medical kits. Some of these practices are expected to be implemented all the time by certified businesses, regardless of whether a COVID case has been detected in Palau, such as the availability of hand sanitizers in common areas and bathrooms. More extreme measures will only be expected to be implemented once an active COVID case in Palau is declared, but businesses are expected to always be prepared to implement them, such as allowing for six feet of space between groups in sitting areas.
The BOT has said that, following this initial certification, ongoing communication and visits to businesses on a quarterly basis will allow for any new information and requirements to be disseminated among the industry.
Although no definite date has been set for a reopening of Palau’s borders, President Surangel Whipps Jr. has said that he is hopeful a “sterile corridor” between Palau and Taiwan can be established by the end of March. President Whipps, who made an appearance at the training session on January 18, stressed that Palau will open “safely and responsibly”. This timeline, however, is dependent on when Taiwan is ready to open this “sterile corridor”. Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu was in support of the idea of establishing such a corridor but stressed that strict regulations must be maintained for this to be a possibility.