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The world’s first ‘responsible travel’ scheme encourages people to do good while they’re away

The island of Palau will offer exclusive experiences to visitors who respect the local culture and environment

Sophie Dickinson
Written by
Sophie Dickinson

Since 2017, the tiny archipelago of Palau has required visitors to sign the ‘Palau Pledge’. Everyone who enters the country has to promise the local population that they’ll ‘tread lightly’ and ‘preserve and protect’ the natural world, ensuring its longevity for future generations. 

And now, a new programme called Ol’au Palau is offering a world first: travellers will be rewarded with exclusive experiences based on how they treat Palau’s local environment and culture.

Guests can redeem points on an app after they do things like visit important national sites, eat sustainably-sourced food or use reef-safe sunscreen. Points ‘unlock’ unusual experiences normally reserved for locals, like the location of an unmarked hiking route or the chance to swim in a hidden cave. You could also dine with island locals or take part in symbolic ceremonies. 

Before the pandemic, Palau’s economy was heavily dependent on tourism, with around 150,000 people visiting annually (dwarfing the local population of 20,000). But its fragile ecosystem was suffering, and now the Palau Legacy Project aims to help sort that out.

Founder Laura Clarke recommends spending a fortnight in Palau, especially since travel time to the remote archipelago ­– located nearly 900km east of the Philippines – can take up a good chunk of your stay. ‘You want the first five days to start collecting your points, and you want a good amount of time, like five or six days, to redeem them,’ she says. Our advice? Do your research, then get booking. 

Looking to change the way you travel? Here are 12 ways to be a better tourist right now.

Plus: here are 10 eco-friendly travel companies you can feel good about booking with.

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