While the global pandemic has forced Our Ocean 2020 to wait for next year, the venues which have been renovated in anticipation of the Conference have opened a window of opportunities for Palau, according to the Our Ocean Secretariat Office.
While the Our Ocean Conference has been moved to an unspecified time in 2021, due to international travel restrictions, the facilities have provided Palau with improved infrastructure, given work to local construction companies and tourism workers re-employed in construction, and boosted Palau’s ability to host international meetings.
The renovated facilities include the Belau National Gym, the old Olbiil Era Kelulau (OEK) Building, Civic Hall, Ernguul Park, the classrooms and cafeteria of Palau Community College (PCC), and Asahi Baseball Field, which remains under construction, as well as the nearby roads and outer facilities.
The Secretariat Office has said that the completion of the facilities is “setting the bar high in the standards around the region”, especially during this time of the pandemic.
“In the region, a lot of the construction is on halt now,” said Ms. Ngedikes Olai Uludong, Palau’s Ambassador to the United Nations. “This is the only infrastructure village that has maintained that momentum enough to be completed.”
Over $16 million in funds, which was given to Palau by international donors including Taiwan, Japan, Australia, India, New Zealand, and the Nippon Foundation, was administered by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to upgrade venues to use for the Our Ocean Conference and subsequent conferences.
The facilities were intentionally placed within 400 meters of each other. However, the Secretariat Office said that the designated areas for the Conference may change, depending on when it happens.
The “Global Village” facilities, which include improvements made to Ernguul Park, the Belau National Gym, and Civic Hall were completed and handed back to Ministry of Community and Culture Affairs (MCCA) in September of this year. While the Gym was originally refurbished to be the main plenary hall of the Conference, the MCCA says that it will now be used as a facility to host sporting events and other large events, such as the Fifth Anniversary of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS), which was held there in October.
Other improvements were done on classrooms and the cafeteria of PCC and the old OEK Building, originally intended to host bilateral meetings and side-events during the Conference. The PCC renovations have already been in use by the students and faculty of PCC, and the offices of the old OEK have been given or are in the process of being given back to the original tenants. Executive Director Destin Penland of the Secretariat Office said that, regardless of how it may be used in the Conference, the renovation of the old OEK was an important step for Palau to take.
“It was an honor to be part of this renovation of a place with this much historical significance,” said Mr. Penland, citing the signing of Palau’s Constitution as one of the major historical events which took place there.
The Asahi Baseball Field, which is currently under construction by Neco Construction and projected to be finished by the end of February, was refurbished in order to hold “spillover space” during the Conference, or a place to accommodate additional local markets as well as a secure area for outdoor demonstrations. Heavy rains have caused delays in the construction, but once the project is completed, it will be available to host baseball games, such as the Palau Major League. The project involves a “complete” renovation, including putting down astroturf.
Regardless of whether the facilities will be used as planned for Our Ocean, the Secretariat said that the renovations have developed Palau’s ability to host large international conferences in the future. The renovations may serve as a step into the “meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions” (MICE) tourism sector for Palau, a type of tourism that involves large groups of visitors traveling into a country for official gatherings. In many countries and cities, this type of tourism has been proven to generate “massive booms” for the economy, bringing traffic to hotels, transportation, restaurants, stores, and other services.
The challenge remains to plan for an international Conference, while the COVID pandemic has shown no signs of abating. As of now, the Our Ocean Conference originally scheduled for December of this year has been pushed back to an unspecified time in 2021, while the Our Ocean Conference in Panama is currently set to be held in 2022. President Remengesau has said that the Conference will be better held as an in-person international gathering rather than a virtual one, but time has yet to show if and when this will be possible in the upcoming year.
“Whether or not there’s a chance next year to have a Conference] is not dictated by the Conference; it’s dictated by COVID,” said Ms. Uludong. “We don’t know the state of the international community on traveling . . . if and when the Conference takes place, we’ll come back to the table on what [facilities] make sense to use.”

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