18 January 2019

Chinese tourists in Palau

Mrs Wan, who runs some restaurants and hotels in Palau, came over from Guangzhou some fifteen years ago with her husband. She speaks Cantonese and Mandarin but only basic English. Their kids grew up here in Palau and speak good English.

She takes a liking to us since we keep coming back every day for dinner and comes over to chat. We come back because the food is excellent, the price is fairly low and they come and pick us up from our hotel for free. And take us back after our meal. Oh, and because my wife is Chinese and there are no Italian restaurants in Koror. None that could be called that really. And not many good restaurants, period. Lots of hamburgers and junk food I am sorry to say.

Mrs Wang also gave us free food a couple of times: a delicious crab one day and fresh yellow fin tuna just caught by her cousin another evening.

She says business is slow these days because the numbers of Chinese tourists are down. In fact during a whole week we've only seen very few patrons in the restaurant, all of them Chinese, which is surprising since there are quite a few western tourists around. I guess they prefer hot dogs and hamburgers. Oh well.

The biggest table in the restaurant, a big one with a lazy Susan in the middle, is always that of Mrs Wan's family and their visiting friends!

She came to talk to us a few times. She says fewer Chinese come to Palau these days despite the allure of a not too far sunny tropical destination accessible visa-free, an unusual combination of attractive factors for the rising middle class of China. The reason, she explained, is that Palau recognizes the government of Taipei as the legitimate government of China, and not that in Beijing.

So Beijing has forbidden Chinese travel agencies to sell group tours to the country. Since most Chinese still prefer group organized travels this has had a major impact.

Tom, an American dive guide who has lived here for decades, would later explain to us that another reason for fewer Chinese is that Palau's government has withdrawn the license it had given to Chinese charter flights. The reason is that too many Chinese were flying over but not spending much money. They would stick to their tour operator's activities, eat at Chinese restaurants, even bring their own food from China. Tom said the Palau government would rather do without them and try to attract bigger spenders like Americans, Japanese, and Koreans as well as the relatively few European divers who make it all the way down here.

These days they are opening a new Chinese resort, Palau Royal Garden. Some fear Chinese intrusion into Palau, some politicians think they will use investment as a political tool. That is not inconceivable I suppose though people like Mrs. Wang are just hard-working entrepreneurs who go and find opportunity where they can find it in the world, just like the Chinese have always done.

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