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Global recession and swine flu fears blamed

By Maripet L. Poso KOROR (Palau Horizon, Jan. 27, 2010) - The global economic recession and the outbreak of H1N1 were the apparent culprits behind the declines of the number of tourist arrivals in Palau in 2009.

According to the statistics report from Palau Visitors Authority (PVA), Palau only saw 71,887 visitors in 2009 compared to 79,259 guests in 2008.

"That’s 9.3 percent drop, about 6,000 arrivals lost compared to 2008," said Darin De Leon, Managing Director of PVA. He said they started seeing the decline in arrivals in late 2008. "That’s when the recession started, followed by the outbreak of H1N1." The impact, he said, was carried over through the whole of 2009.

Although it wasn’t a big downturn, it’s still an important number to consider. "Of course, we’d rather see increase than decrease in number, right?"

The recession, he added, is something that Palau is not immune to. "Whether we like it or not, we will see the effects of recession simply because we depend on international carriers to bring our passengers. Anything that happens to our international market affects our market share."

Although it dropped by 11.09 percent, Japan still had the highest number of tourists coming to Palau with 30,018 in 2009. It was followed by Taiwan with 19,981and Korea with 14,186.

"They will continue to be our biggest market because of their proximity to Palau," De Leon said. Europeans is another preferred market because they have the longest length of stay in Palau, an average of 9 to 14 nights. But he said one of its biggest drawbacks is flight connections. "It’s quite challenging to get convenient flights to Palau. Until we have convenient airline services, that market will continue to be a challenge for us."

Despite the recession, De Leon is optimistic. "Based on reports coming from international tourism associations, we’re looking at a good turnaround over tourism industry this year," he beamed.

PVA, on its part, is doubling its efforts to maintain its presence in the market. "Even though sometimes it is challenging, we continue to consistently remind the people that we are here." At present, they are working with different states to identify their respective tourist attractions -- whether historical, natural, land based or water based.

Aside from diving, Palau is being promoted as family-oriented getaway, honeymooners escape, and adventurer-seekers haven.

"Over the years, Palau has been aggressively promoted as a diving destination," De Leon said. "But there’s more to do in Palau than just diving."

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