TOKYO (Marianas Business Journal)  — Palau’s travel sector and the government need to come up with new ideas to promote the destination if it wants to stem the steady decline in foreign tourists, said Isoo Wada, general manager of Isaiah Japan, the exclusive agent for Impac Tours.

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Speaking with the Journal at the three-day Tourism Expo Japan, which opened at the Big Sight exhibition centre in Tokyo on Sept. 22, Wada said he believes that Palau is still an attractive vacation destination, but the tourism has struggled recently due to factors beyond its control.

“Recently, it has been very difficult,” Wada said, pointing out that Delta Air Lines is presently the only airline operating direct flights between Tokyo and Koror. Japan airlines had five scheduled direct charter flights between Tokyo and Koror in 2017, but no other airline has held scheduled direct flights between the two.

The alternative for Japanese visitors is to fly via Guam with United Airlines, although that takes significantly longer. “Also, Japanese people are nervous about going to Guam because of the North Korea situation,” he said.

“Chinese arrivals are down as well — as much as 50% last year — because they have had a relatively weak economy for a couple of years now,” Wada said. Similarly, arrivals from South Korea, Palau’s remaining major source of tourists, have also declined, he added.

In 2016, tourists from China posted total arrivals of 64,990, compared to the historic 87,058 in 2015, according to Journal files. (See “Palau arrivals drop 15% in 2016” from the Jan. 13, 2017 issue of the Journal.)

“At the moment, there are a lot of hotel rooms in Palau that are empty, so we need a new effort that brings together the government, the visitors’ bureau, airlines and hotels with travel agents, in order to come up with new ideas and new tours,” he said.

“I believe that we would benefit from more experience in travel planning,” he said, but added that Palau has some magnificent attractions.

“We are very proud that the Rock Islands area has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site and I hope that might be used to attract more visitors, particularly Japanese tourists.

“There are also great opportunities for special interest tours, such as bird-watching trips, and that is exactly the sort of thing that we need to identify, develop and promote to get people to come,” Wada said.

Another issue that the industry contends with is falling prices for vacations in Hawaii and Guam, which only serve to make Palau relatively more expensive. Yet Wada remains optimistic that international travelers will return in the future.

“I am certain they will come back, for several reasons,” he said. “Work is under way to make Koror airport bigger, with assistance from the Japanese government, so we will be able to have more and bigger aircraft — and the problem at the moment is primarily one of a lack of flights.

“And we have wonderful scenery, nature and World Heritage recognition, so there are plenty of reasons for people to visit,” he said. [/restrict]