Palau was never officially on the list of China-approved destinations. (Reuters: Jackson Henry)
A Ban on Chinese Tourists in the Tiny Pacific Nation Palau has left hotels empty, an airline in abeyance, and showed the power that China has over its holiday class.
- Palau is one of Taiwan's 1
- According to reports, China issued a memo stating that tours to Palau should be punished
- Palau Pacific Airways says it was forced To stop operations because this is not possible to fill places
According to Palau Bureau of Immigration and the South Pacific Tourism Organization, the number of Chinese visitors to Palau increased from just 634 in 2008 to 87,000 in 2015.
But by the end of 2017 – after China had seemingly arbitrarily banished state vacation packages from visiting the country – Chinese arrivals crashed to 58,000.
This has rocked some tourism operators in the Pacific Island nation, and one airline says it was forced to cease operations because it can not fill seats.
Analysts have proposed Palau's diplomatic relations with Taiwan – one of its 17 remaining allies worldwide – combined with Beijing's ability to control and oversee its tourists
How China Controls Where Its Tourists Go ?
In November 2017, China banned state-run vacation packages from visiting the Palau. (ABC News: Kristy Sexton-McGrath)
An instrument that is available to the Chinese government is the Approved Destination Status (ADS)] If a country has ADS, that means Chinese state tour agents have group travel there to operate.
Stropfor analyst Evan Rees for the Asia-Pacific region said package travel accounts for a large portion of the Chinese tourism market and could have a significant impact on recipient countries.
"Assigning this ADS status to a country can massively increase the Chinese tourist flow – in many cases as much as 50 percent, so this is an enormous lever for the Chinese Government has sent Chinese tourists abroad," said Mr. Rees.
In addition to ADS, China has introduced travel bans to other countries – effectively preventing holiday packages from visiting these places.
"This is an emerging diplomatic weapon from China with different impacts on regional states," said Jie Chen, associate professor at the University of Western Australia, focusing on China's international relations.
Australia has been a recognized destination for more than 20 years, but that does not mean that it is immune to pressure from China.
For example, the Australian airline Qantas changed its stance towards Taiwan earlier this year after bowing to pressure from Beijing
Other international airlines have also been given a deadline to renounce Taiwan as a land or a punishment.
Why is Palau targeted?
Palau Pacific Airways announced that it would discontinue the operation indefinitely at the end of August 2018. (Facebook)
Although Palau was officially never on the list of approved travel destinations, this did not prevent the travel of Chinese tour groups The past decade
But that changed last November, when Chinese officials distributed a memo to travel agents and recalled that it was illegal to book group travel to places that were not on the approved list.
The memo specifically mentions Palau, and agencies that book tours there would be punished.
The movement was widely thought of as a pressure on Palau, which maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan and not with China.
"It's pretty strong lever," said Mr. Rees.
"About 50 percent of Palau's tourists come from mainland China, and about 50 percent of Palau's GDP comes from tourism, so it's a strong hand in the economy of a fairly small country."
A South Pacific Tourism Report Organization (SPTO) found that Chinese visitors to Palau fell 22.7 percent between the third and fourth quarters of 2017.
Visitor numbers in Palau have fallen 16 percent over the same period SPTOs A quarterly review of visitor numbers revealed that the decline was "mainly due to the dramatic decline in scheduled and charter flights from this source market [China] by 63.9 percent and 17.4 percent respectively."
Last month, Palau Pacific Airways was operated by the Taiwanese firm Sea Passion Group and operated flights between Hong Kong and Palau, announcing that it would discontinue its operations indefinitely in late August
In a letter from the group to Palaus National Congress, she quoted the ban from China and China The lack of tourists was the reason why they had to be closed.
Ms. Chen added that the rapid rise of middle-class Chinese families is leading to more and more people being able to afford an overseas trip, and Beijing knows that he has "diplomatic value" of it.
This is # The first time this happened
The number of Chinese visitors to Palau has increased significantly over the last decade. (ABC News: Lenny de Vries)
Late last year, just before the Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, China banned group travel to South Korea in protest at the introduction of the US-backed missile defense system
Seoul said the system should intercept incoming missiles from North Korea, but China claimed it was a threat to its safety.
Qantas was one of 36 airlines instructed to no longer refer to Taiwan as a separate country. (ABC News: Giulio Saggin, file photo)
"Estimated losses for South Korea over this tourism ban were close to $ 7 billion," Rees said.
He added that China had also used the promise of package travelers as a diplomatic sweetener.
In 2000, China wanted to sail out of an airline it had just purchased from Ukraine via the Turkish-controlled Bosphorus strait, but Turkey refused.
After 15 months of diplomatic distancing, Turkey finally gave in when China promised some benefits in return: One of them was the Approved Destination status.
"This was one of the things that conquered Turkey and released the Chinese ship," said Rees
A silver lining for Palau's beautiful landscapes.
Palau's President Tommy Remengesau Jr. Has not shown any signs that the tourism ban is tempting the country to break diplomatic relations with Taiwan – in a way, even the tourism ban could be Palau help.
The Pacific Islands had been dealing with mass tourism and environmental impacts for some time.
Palau's President Tommy Remengesau Jr. has shown no signs that the country will switch diplomatic sides. (ABC)
The government closed the famous Jellyfish Lake of Palau in 2017 with reference to the elimination of "additional exposure to visitors and human activity" as a reason for the closure.
Even before China's travel penetration, Palau had taken steps to move its tourism market away from Chinese parcel groups and towards "high yield, low impact" tourists: fewer, higher expenses and more environmentally conscious travelers.
South Pacific Tourism Director Chris Cocker told the ABC that this could be a model for other Pacific nations.
"Our countries are not for the mass tourism of the Chinese market," said Cocker.
"We must be very, very attentive to our small and fragile ecosystems and the impact of tourism development on our region.
" Especially for our small islands, the livelihoods of our people as well as our culture and environment in this case . "
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