Tourism operators in Palau will be trained on the guidelines for receiving a Pandemic Safety Certification, which will qualify businesses to handle tourists during a pandemic. Tri-Org, a collaboration between the Bureau of Tourism (BOT), Palau Visitors Authority (PVA), and Palau Chamber of Commerce (PCOC), will be conducting training sessions.
The National Pandemic Safety Regulation for Tourism was signed into law on November 18 of last year and requires tourism operators to be certified in the event of a positive COVID case in Palau, if they are to accommodate visitors from the outside.
Palau Community College certified 18 trainers from different tourism sectors such as accommodation, restaurants, and tour operations to conduct trainings on the guidelines for the Pandemic Safety Certification targeted towards their specific sectors on January 18 and 19, with sessions conducted by the BOT. These targeted trainings are tentatively scheduled to begin in February, with at least three sessions for every sector.
The certification would be applicable to an estimated 300 businesses in Palau, from hotels and restaurants to dive shops. The current guidelines for receiving a certification from the BOT include a mixture of hygienic and safety qualifications which must be complied with all the time, and preparations for implementing additional measures if a positive COVID case is detected in Palau.
All certified tourism operators, for example, must have antibacterial hand-soap or hand-sanitizer which is at least 60% alcohol available in bathrooms and common areas all the time, and must have access to medical kits containing masks, gloves, protective aprons, and biohazard waste bags. Although it is not required to be implemented before a COVID case is confirmed, all operators must have a plan in place to conduct a health check for every visitor, such as a temperature check, a measure which will be enforced if COVID is detected in Palau.
While the BOT has said that the certification for companies is optional, a company without this certification which is found accommodating visitors following a positive COVID case could face hefty fines, as could certified companies which violate the guidelines.
The discussion of safe tourism procedures is gaining significance as talks of reopening the borders become more common, and the vaccination process in Palau begins. While border closures have caused many tourism operators to temporarily shut their doors, some of these businesses, such as Palau Pacific Resort (PPR), are cautiously reopening in anticipation of at least a partial revival of the tourism base. Many workers are eagerly awaiting the return of the tourism industry to Palau, especially as PVA’s re-employment program, which found temporary job placements for workers in the tourism sector who lost their jobs, is set to end on January 31.
Although no timeline has yet been established for the proposed travel bubble between Palau and Taiwan, talks of a “sterile corridor” which will open Palau to tourists who are screened in Taiwan and continue to Palau once they are deemed safe seem to be well-received by both the leaders of Palau and Taiwan. The concept of the “sterile corridor” even found a place in President Surangel Whipps’ inauguration speech.
“The sterile corridor between our countries will revitalize personal, medical, educational, and business relationships between our countries,” said President Whipps at his inauguration last Thursday.
Still, even as the Moderna vaccine begins to roll out in Palau and protect the frontline workers and most vulnerable members of Palau’s population, Foreign Minister of Taiwan Joseph Wu and the Ministry of Health (MOH) have urged caution, claiming that a positive COVID case in Palau before the majority of the population is vaccinated could overwhelm the healthcare system.