PNG’s untapped tourism
New hotel boss Marc Ehler says PNG has the right ingredients to attract more visitors. David James reports.
Papua New Guinea has untapped tourism potential, according to Marc Ehler, the recently appointed group general manager of Coral Sea Hotels. “The leisure and adventure tourism prospects in PNG are enormous,” he says.
Ehler, who joined the Steamships-owned Coral Sea Hotels chain at the start of the year, has visited 70 countries and worked in many of them.
He says a comparison with the Maldives and Seychelles is instructive.
“They have sun, sea and sand only and they are hugely successful in tourism. Here, PNG has so much more: the fauna and the flora, the bird life, the mountains, game fishing, extraordinary diving, the cultural shows, and the tribes. You can truly experience ‘a million different journeys’ as the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority’s slogan suggests.
“PNG’s culture is very natural. It is not staged, and that is very unique.
“When you go to the countryside, you get to know the real culture, and during the cultural
When you go to the countryside, you get to know the real culture, and during the cultural shows tourists love a sing-sing and to dance along.
shows tourists love a sing-sing and to dance along,” he says.
Ehler notes that PNG currently has niche tourism markets, which focus on mountaineering and diving and history, with the Kokoda Trail being one of the most famous attractions.
He says Coral Sea Hotels is mainly targeting corporate and business segments of the travel market. He says the company is one of the longest-standing hotel operators in PNG and has a country-wide network, which is the key to maintaining a corporate clientele. “We have a competitive advantage in terms of being well known in the market because of our long-standing presence in PNG,” he says. “We have different types of hotels whereby we can position ourselves in different star categories. I can offer a three, four and fivestar hotel; that gives us a good range for the contract business segment to offer different categories for different needs. “If there are meeting requirements in Port Moresby, Mount Hagen, Lae, Goroka and Kiunga we can offer that as being part of the Coral Sea Hotels.” Ehler says this year will be a good one because of the many APEC meetings and the APEC Leaders meeting in November. He says Coral Sea has a strong position. “We compete on the fact that we have been here for a long time, we have very good connections, and we have longstanding relationships with contracted corporate business. “The challenge will be 2019 and beyond.” He acknowledges there will be greater competition with another new hotel entry, the Hilton, coming at the end of this year. In Port Moresby, the total number of rooms “of decent international quality” will be about 2200 by the end of this year, and they need to be filled.
Ehler says he has been pleasantly surprised by his local staff. “I find people quite courteous and keen for new knowledge. There is certainly potential there, but we need to do more in mentoring and coaching managers.”
The company is developing and introducing senior management programs and has 18 senior managers in a development program.
From those programs, it will be possible to grow and develop national managers to become better and more effective managers in Coral Sea Hotels, he says.
The new undersea cable from Australia to PNG will also be important for both the business and tourism markets.
“Obviously, you want to really experience the destination, so connectivity at first may not be that important.
“But, later on, you will want to send the pictures of the amazing nature and underwater corals and ocean life, people and cultural shows you have taken.
“So, it is overall significant that Australia is providing this kind of support to PNG.”
Getting in the groove … (clockwise from opposite page) tourists dance along at a sing- sing; the Ela Beach Hotel, owned by Coral Sea; Marc Ehler.