Tourist arrivals from China resumed Saturday, April 30th, with the arrival of one hundred sixty-five (165) passengers on Lanmei Airlines from Macau, China. This was the first direct flight to Palau with tourists since March 2020.
Lanmei Airlines, chartered by Palau Pacific Asia Airlines company, is approved for four slots this month, according to Alan Seid, owner of Palau Pacific Asia Airlines. He said they seek permission to fly directly from Macau to Palau twice weekly for the rest of the year.
Alan Seid said that most of the visitors are young Chinese, many of them avid scuba divers. “About 40% of them are scuba divers wanting to dive in Palau.”
Seid also confirmed reports that some tour operators have problems finding boat drivers, but he added that operators are looking to train younger guys to operate boats. A number of local boat drivers have left the island in the last few years after COVID devastated the tourism industry.
Palau Pacific Asia Airlines contracted Trip Easy Tour Agency to promote Palau in China. “Here we also work with different travel agents and tour companies so we don’t do all the bookings. They can book their own hotels and tour packages,” explained Alan Seid of their company’s approach.
Despite China’s designation of Palau as a non-approved destination, visitors from China can still book flights to Palau through various means, including booking directly through WeChat, added Seid.
“We are open to all destinations,” asserted Minister Ngirai Tmetuchl of the Human Resources, Culture, Tourism & Development Ministry.
In July of 2021, President Surangel Whipps Jr. issued Executive Order No. 456, rescinding the prior EO prohibiting entry of travelers from Macau, Hong Kong, and Mainland China.
“All travelers with a travel history originating from or transiting through mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau shall no longer be barred from entry into the Republic of Palau; however, all travelers must still satisfy any and all Public Health Directives regulating entry into the Republic that is in effect at the time of the traveler’s entry,” stated EO 456.
On April 25, 2023, Palau no longer requires a COVID-19 vaccination to enter. The Ministry of Health and Human Services issued a public notice that “due to widespread uptake of vaccines, availability of effective therapeutics, and other tools to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Republic of Palau will no longer require COVID-19 vaccination to enter the country.”
Tourism from China represented over 50% of Palau’s overall tourism market before the COVID pandemic.