In a bid to attract domestic tourists, the Angaur Government has constructed a small, rustic homestay in the north of the island, with the plan to create a series of bungalows on the land around the Monkey Sanctuary area.
Angaur State Governor Kennosuke Suzuky said that the house and other bungalows which are being planned are meant to serve as “stress-free, off-grid” destinations which can be rented out to locals from Koror and elsewhere to “reflect, relax, and explore nature”.
With the halt in international tourism which came along with the pandemic, many tourism-related businesses such as hotels, restaurants, and tour operators in Palau have shifted their focus towards a domestic customer base. Angaur State is seeking to do the same. Although pre-COVID Angaur only averaged around ten to twenty tourists a month, renewed efforts to bring more visitors to the island, such as the creation of the Monkey Sanctuary, the development of the Angaur Visitors Authority, and the “Alii Pass” program with the Palau Visitors Authority (PVA), have recently looked for ways to grow the tourism industry on the island. However, COVID has caused slowdowns in many of these efforts, including the Monkey Sanctuary.
“Like everything else at the state level and national level, everything was put on hold [when COVID hit],” said Governor Suzuky.
The Monkey Sanctuary, a piece of land in the north of Angaur which has been set aside as a tourism attraction, has been leased, cleared, and maintained. However, in order to establish the sanctuary fully as a place where visitors can go to see monkeys, the state needs funding which right now it doesn’t have.
“In order for this to generate revenue we need tourism, but COVID is creating situations where there is no tourism,” said the Governor.
The hope is that the “bungalow attraction” can help generate local tourism, which will help to fund the more ambitious international tourist attractions such as the Monkey Sanctuary and camp sites. The Governor says that he looks to source out building materials that are being used at other construction sites as well as local wood and bamboo for the construction of the homestays, which is meant to give them a “rustic” feel while also cutting costs. The existing house cost less than $5 thousand to build, says the Governor.
The plan is to make the guesthouses “simple” buildings, which operate on solar energy.
“Right now, we have Airbnb, and those houses are booked all the time,” said the Governor. “Since Angaur has a shortage of houses, and Angaur itself has beauty in every corner, we can market this as an off-grid vacation place.”
But even this plan is experiencing setbacks due to the pandemic.
“There are still a lot of steps we have to take as a state to make this idea materialize,” said Governor Suzuky.
The PVA Reemployment Program provided the manpower to help with beach-cleanup on Angaur, but Governor Suzuky stressed that “budget constraints and different priorities” caused by the pandemic has brought about a delay in the project. The next step which the State must take is approaching land-owners and obtaining use-rights. Governor Suzuky says that Angaur is about 80 percent owned by clans, and that in order to build on the land the government must first get leases from the clans, as was done for the Monkey Sanctuary.
“While there is no [international] tourism, we’re still structuring the place,” said the Governor.
As President Whipps’ administration continues to discuss when to slowly reopen Palau to international tourism in the coming months, Angaur is also developing a plan for when tourism returns. According to the Governor, Angaur is hoping to implement an “impact fee” for international visitors, which will entitle them to visit the Sanctuary, as well as the beaches and the biking trails. Tourists coming by Pacific Mission Aviation or speedboat would pay $25 at the point of entry, and afterwards would be able to visit all of the sites free of charge.
“[Developing these things] is a challenge all around,” said Governor Suzuky. “I’m game for it, but it takes time.”