A remote island that rewards responsible tourists

In a clever follow-up of Host/Havas’ Cannes-winning campaign, the Pacific region of Palau rewards carbon-offsetting so that tourists can unlock off-the-beaten-track experiences.

Policing tourist behaviour is difficult to do—there’s the question of using tech to detect bad behaviour, the question of tourists feeing entitled to do whatever they like on their vacations, and of course, the question of whether it might curb tourism dollars. 

The Republic of Palau in northwest Pacific has launched Ol’au Palau: a new model of responsible tourism developed by Host/Havas that aims to change the way people interact with the country’s preserved environment and local culture. 

For context, this is a follow-up of Palau’s 2017 campaign—also by Host/Havas—to enforce a pledge stamped in visitors’ passports to protect and care for the nation’s ecosystem. The campaign swept the Titanium Lions by taking the Grand Prix to make it three top gongs at 2018’s Cannes Lions.

Through a new app, the initiative creates a different type of tourism value exchange. Visitors can accumulate points for demonstrating responsible and regenerative behaviour during their stay, and in return, they can use these points to unlock unique experiences Palau has to offer, which have previously only been accessible to Palauans and close friends.

These experiences include accessing pristine parts of the island, meeting local elders, touring historic sites, visiting villages and having lunch with the community, traditional fishing at secret spots, and swimming at hidden caves. None of these experiences will be made available to visitors who don’t participate or who don’t accumulate enough points during their stay.

Visitors can partake in activities to offset their carbon footprint and gain points that are measured by a personal carbon calculator in the app. These virtuous activities include using reef-safe sunscreen, frequenting businesses that are reducing their impact on the environment and culture, visiting culturally significant tourism sites, eating sustainably sourced local food, participating in community regenerative tourism projects, and avoiding single-use plastics.

Jon Austin, the ECD at Host/Havas, said that the notion of applying gamification principles to ecotourism has been “incredibly exciting”. The agency team worked with the private sector and Palauan elders to bring this initiative to life.

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