This tourist application allows to live unique experiences in Palau by carrying out tasks respectful of the environment

As an archipelago in the western Pacific Ocean, the Republic of Palau has some interesting firsts. It is the location of the world’s first shark sanctuary, which was established in September 2009. Then, four years later, Palau became home to a fully protected marine sanctuary.

Now, the tourism sector of this Pacific island nation is ushering in another first. Ol’au Palau, a new sustainability initiative, will promote responsible tourism through a game app that compels travelers to take environmentally friendly actions.

“Palau’s desire for more positive, sustainable and regenerative behavior from visitors arose out of necessity, as its economy is inextricably linked to its ecology,” said Jennifer Koskelin Gibbons, co-founder of the Palau Legacy Project and Local Palauan.

According to Gibbons, pre-COVID tourism accounted for 85% of Palau’s GDP. Yet while tourism remains essential to Palau, its environmental impact may carry more weight.

Left unattended, Gibbons further explained that “those same tourists would have a significant cultural and ecological impact” could have damaging ramifications for Palau and the island as a whole. These factors can range from the risk of harming the corals and delicate flora, to not respecting the Palauan language and culture.

“So Palau needed a way to reinforce and measure more positive tourist behavior,” Gibbons added.

Developed by creative agency Host/Havas, Ol’au Palau is a rewards-based game app that teaches visitors about eco-etiquette. This is done through a points-based system in which users unlock badges through completed tasks.

“The idea was to apply the principles of the game based on rewards and nudges, which had grown so much during the pandemic, to ecotourism as a way to encourage and incentivize the type of behaviour [that] Palau’s fragile ecosystem demands it,” Gibbons explained.

To earn points, visitors to Palau will be required to perform certain responsibilities involving simple or large activities or personal interactions. They include using reef-safe sunscreen, visiting culturally significant tourist sites, and avoiding single-use plastics.

Other requirements at Ol’au Palau go even further. Travelers are encouraged to participate in regenerative tourism projects, support businesses focused on reducing their environmental and cultural impact, and eat local, sustainable foods.

In addition, these “players” can correctly answer questions about the biodiversity and culture of Palau. They will also be able to earn points by offsetting their carbon footprint using Palau’s personal carbon calculator. As of this writing, the calculator is in beta but is fully functional. It is accessible and usable via this link.

Ol’au Palau also relies on the Palau Pledge, a pledge established in 2017 that requires visiting tourists to pledge to protect Palau’s environment and culture. It runs a mandatory passport stamp that must be signed by travelers upon arrival in Palau.

“It was a huge global success and helped change visitor behavior and attract like-minded visitors,” Gibbons said. “But then Palau needed to create a way to continue educating visitors about responsible behavior at all tourist touchpoints. Ol’au Palau was born out of this necessity.

Once the tasks are completed, Ol’au Palau will then unlock unique cultural experiences that would normally be reserved for Palauans. They may involve the opportunity to meet community elders and visit villages or gain access to parts of the island that are generally off-limits to the general public.

So the more responsible you are, the more access you will have to Palauan culture.

“For years Palau has had the challenge of sharing significant cultural sites that are very special and protected with visitors,” Gibbons said. “With this platform, we can make these places more accessible to worthy, proven visitors. It’s a way to check who can access special places and the community in a respectful and conscious way.

In the local language, Palauan, “Ol’au” is a way of calling a friend to invite them to your space.

Ol’au Palau was launched at the Our Oceans conference in April 2022, co-hosted by Palau and the United States in Palau. Gibbons noted that Ol’au Palau has also gained support from those directly connected to the app – the Palauans.

“We are so proud that the project has been officially approved by the Palau Council of Chiefs. This is an important validation.

Currently, Ol’au Palau is available for registration for download upon release. Sign up at olaupalau.com.

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