Tourists in Palau
Tourists on a cruise as they stepped down from MS Albatros at the Palau Pacific Resort Dock on March 4. (Photo: Rhealyn Callao Pojas)

A Pacific island nation that is mostly frequented by Chinese tourists is pushing for a stricter measure to ban visitors with felony records from setting foot on its shores and opening only its doors to those who have pure intentions to explore and invest in legal businesses.

Palau, a tiny island nation situated in the Western Pacific Ocean, is without a doubt one of the favorite island destinations of Chinese tourists in the Pacific based on the country's tourist arrival numbers that had been dominated by Chinese for years.

Out of the 106,303 tourists that visited Palau in 2018, almost half of the total number of visitors or 41,317 are Chinese tourists.

Located near the Philippines and having a population of around 18,000 as of 2019 based on the information from the World Population Review, Palau boasts of its crystal clear ocean waters, hence branding itself as a "pristine paradise." Now, it is taking its "pristine" branding to the next level by banning felons from entering the country.

The policy, however, begs into question its impact on the tourism industry. Will it attract more tourists or discourage them? The chairman of the Palau Visitors Authority (PVA), the island nation's tourism arm, has an optimistic answer.

PVA Board Chairman Ngiraibelas Tmetuchl, in an interview, said that banning criminals is good for the reputation of Palau as a "safe and fun island to visit" hence showcasing the country as among the safest island destinations in the Pacific region. 

 "Pristine Paradise connotes hospitality, warmth, comfort, and bliss. Additionally, Palau has been among the safest island destinations in our region. It's imperative that we maintain the reputation at all cost," Tmetuchl said.

Tmetuchl also sees the stricter policy as a way to encourage businessmen to pour in more legitimate investments in the country.

"This will help the reputation of Palau as a safe haven not only for the tourists but as well as for the business people. If legitimate businesses hear that we're cracking down on criminals, they would feel that Palau is but a safe place to dump their money," Tmetuchl said.

Although there was a bit of skepticism regarding the implementation of the policy, this soon dampened by the recent news that a Chinese national identified as Xiaoxue Xu, who is found to be the wife of former Macau gambling triad leader Wan Kuok-koi, was denied entry to the country after investigations revealed she allegedly falsified her identity.

Xu, according to the investigation conducted by the Palauan authorities, was found allegedly using three different passports bearing different birth dates and using another name, Ran Ran Xu, in one instance.

Palau President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. previously decried the country's "lax visa and entry standards" prompting him to sign an Executive Order on April 30, 2019, to prevent individuals with felony records from entering Palau.  

Palau Vice President Raynold Oilouch, in a separate interview, said that although his country welcomes tourists from different parts of the world to enjoy its waters and other tourist activities, it does not welcome those who have felony records to visit and do business in Palau.

Apart from refusing entry of Felons in the country, Palau's local police also reported a decline in crime rate by 14% in the first half of 2019. The police statistics revealed there had only been 736 crimes reported from January to June this year with Crimes Against Public Places comprising the big slice of the cases.