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With points for sustainable behavior, visitors to Palau can unlock exclusive experiences

The Republic of Palau, a tropical archipelago in the Pacific, just announced a new program to change the way visitors interact with the country's natural environment and its people.

Ol'au Palau — named for a local way of inviting others in — is an app tied to a reward scheme. Tourists are awarded points for sustainable and responsible behavior, for example when they offset their carbon footprint with Palau's personal CO2 calculator or avoid single-use plastics.

Accumulated points unlock experiences like visiting parts of the island that are otherwise off-limits to tourists or joining locals for traditional fishing in hidden waters. Ol'au Palau was developed with Sydney-based Host Havas, and future visitors can sign up now to be notified as soon as the app is available.

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While travelers are increasingly aware of tourism's detrimental effect on the places they love, they're also not necessarily looking to be schooled or scolded when they're on holiday. To nudge people in the right direction, destinations need to devise rewards that are worth the (minor) effort.

Palau, which calls itself the Pristine Paradise, is on the right track by offering access to places and encounters that are usually only accessible to native Palauans. It's an exclusivity that money can't buy, and the resulting experiences can genuinely enrich a visitor's stay without deflating their escapist state of mind.

As Alan T. Marbou, Board Member of the Palau Visitors Authority, points out: "The pandemic has provided our planet with a much-needed wake-up call and an opportunity to see what is possible when nature has a chance to rebalance itself. We hope that Ol'au Palau will inspire more destinations to think about the true cost of tourism and rethink who they reward with their best experiences."