Paradise lost

Updated: 2015-03-25 08:57

By Erik Nilsson and Yang Feiyue(China Daily)

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Paradise lost

Chinese tourists in Palau jump from their speedboat in the "Milky Way", a picturesque lagoon on the Rock Islands. [Photo/Agencies]

Palau plans to halve charter flights from China next month, as it deliberates measures to subside the tourism tide that has surged into a tidal wave over the past year.

The tiny Micronesian-island nation of 18,000 people is straining to absorb the deluge of visitors washing over its shores. Tourists increased 34 percent to 141,000 last year, Agence France-Presse reports.

The industry generates about 85 percent of the archipelago's GDP.

Nearly 62 percent of visitors were Chinese this February, when China celebrated the Spring Festival Golden Week holiday. The 10,955 Chinese visitors-equal to half Palau's native population-represent a 500 percent year-on-year surge, the agency reports.

"This is a very sudden influx, so we are trying to understand the situation," Palau Visitors Authority managing director Nanae Singeo tells AFP.

"We have never experienced this much tourism before. And the magnitude is really giving us a lot of pressure. We are a very tiny country with scarce resources. So this sudden increase is an unknown challenge."

She later tells China Daily she can't provide comment because she's out of the country until next month.

"I am afraid my staff may not have the complete picture on this situation to answer to your detailed questions. I hope you can understand that it is a rather sensitive topic today in Palau," she says by e-mail.

"Many people have different opinions. And as the republic's marketing arm, we simply focus to promote Palau and we do not handle any policy-related matters."

None of the 23 hotels China Daily contacted-all recommended by the tourism authority's website-responded to interview requests.

Palau's president, Tommy Remengesau, recently told media that policies to curtail Chinese tourists aren't intended to discriminate.

"Do we want to control growth or do we want growth to control us? It will be irresponsible for me as a leader if this trend continues. I am not only looking at the present but, as a leader, I am looking after tomorrow."

Singeo tells media: "We are not seeing a growth rate to match the number of visitors. Tourists are up 34 percent. So, technically, we should see economic benefits at the rate of 30 percent or more. But that's not the case."

Roughly 6,000 Chinese visited Palau in 2013, reports. Flights transferred through Taipei, Seoul or Manila.

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