Sell­ing PNG’S unique cul­ture and beauty

From mod­est be­gin­nings, Pa­pua New Guinea’s tourism sec­tor is start­ing to make progress in­ter­na­tion­ally. Robert Upe re­ports.

Business Advantage Papua New Guinea - - Tourism -

Pa­pua New Guinea tourism was in the world spot­light in 2014, with a star­tling pub­lic­ity cam­paign in New York. Two PNG tribes­men, in tra­di­tional dress, stopped cars and crowds as they wan­dered the streets of the Big Ap­ple and vis­ited sites such as the Em­pire State Build­ing.

Ad­di­tion­ally, one of the world’s lead­ing travel pub­lish­ers, Lonely Planet, se­lected PNG Vil­lage Stays on its list of the 26 ex­pe­ri­ences to do in the world in 2015, and the New York Times named the new Lake Mur­ray Fish­ing Lodge in its 52 places to go in 2015.

Leisure travel

It’s the type of in­valu­able pub­lic­ity that PNG tourism needs. Of PNG’S 182,188 vis­i­tors in 2013, only 41,000 were leisure trav­ellers, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures pro­vided by the Pa­pua New Guinea Tourism Pro­mo­tion Author­ity (TPA).

While leisure tourism is on the rise, helped along by the ever-popular Kokoda Track and a boom in cruise ship vis­its, it is busi­ness and em­ploy­ment travel that is re­ally send­ing PNG’S vis­i­tor num­bers on a tra­jec­tory that would please the Na­tional Gov­ern­ment. Busi­ness and em­ploy­ment travel into the coun­try has more than tripled since about 2002.

But in raw fig­ures, leisure travel has only in­creased by 10,000 peo­ple in the past five years.

‘While leisure tourism num­bers are in­creas­ing due largely to the grow­ing aware­ness of Pa­pua New Guinea as a vi­able tourist des­ti­na­tion, busi­ness trav­ellers are a more sig­nif­i­cant source of in­bound tourism ex­pen­di­ture,’ says Euromon­i­tor In­ter­na­tional, a Lon­don-based mar­ket in­tel­li­gence firm.

‘Australia, New Zealand and the US rep­re­sent key busi­ness trav­eller source mar­kets and min­ing is the dom­i­nant for­eign in­vest­ment ac­tiv­ity.’

Gov­ern­ment tar­get

The World Travel and Tourism Coun­cil says the ‘di­rect con­tri­bu­tion’ of travel and tourism to the coun­try’s GDP was K369.5 mil­lion in 2013 and it fore­casts this to rise by 4.3% be­tween 2014 and 2024. Tourism’s ‘ to­tal con­tri­bu­tion’ to PNG’S 2013 GDP was 2.5 per cent.

To help th­ese fig­ures along, the Na­tional Gov­ern­ment has tar­geted tourism as a pri­or­ity area for eco­nomic devel­op­ment and for the cre­ation of em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Tourism hub

One of the Gov­ern­ment’s ma­jor ini­tia­tives is to turn Rabaul in East New Bri­tain into PNG’S tourism hub.

The Rabaul project manager, Kayleen Allen from TPA Australia, says that in or­der to make Rabaul the tourism cap­i­tal, it is im­por­tant to work and train those in the in­dus­try up to the stan­dard where they can take in in­ter­na­tional guests.

‘We need a holis­tic ap­proach, hard work and com­mit­ment from ev­ery­one here in East New Bri­tain. We must all work to­gether to make this hap­pen.

‘Over a three-year pe­riod, we will be look­ing at how cus­tomer ser­vices are be­ing pro­vided here in East New Bri­tain, the pric­ing struc­ture in the ho­tel in­dus­try, tour packages, sched­ul­ing, ex­pec­ta­tions of cus­tomers, train­ing, law and or­der and many other ar­eas. We will be work­ing with ev­ery­one to make this hap­pen.”

Last May, the na­tional car­rier, Air Ni­ug­ini, made a com­mit­ment to sup­port the gov­ern­ment’s ini­tia­tive when it im­ple­mented twice-weekly di­rect flights be­tween Rabaul and Cairns in Australia.

Aus­tralians are, by far, the key source of vis­i­tors to PNG, and the con­ve­nient new Cairns flights should help bol­ster leisure ar­rivals, es­pe­cially since trav­ellers can by­pass the coun­try’s cap­i­tal, Port Moresby, which suf­fers from an im­age prob­lem.

Im­age chal­lenge

The TPA says that many vis­i­tors do not un­der­stand the vast dif­fer­ence be­tween Port Moresby and the safe re­gional ar­eas such as New Ire­land, East New Bri­tain and Mine Bay.

On that point, Linda Honey, owner of the popular Tufi Re­sort that helps ar­range the vil­lage stays that Lonely Planet en­dorses, says PNG does suf­fer from neg­a­tive me­dia re­ports.

‘But where tourists are go­ing is very, very safe and the peo­ple wel­come and nur­ture the tourists,’ she coun­ters.

‘There is so much more (tourism) po­ten­tial in PNG and that’s the story that doesn’t get out,’ she says.

Adventure tourism

Regis St Louis, a writer for Lon­don’s Tele­graph news­pa­per, re­ported re­cently:

‘A land of thriv­ing tribal cul­tures, smoul­der­ing vol­ca­noes and vast swathes of pris­tine moun­tain­ous rain­for­est, Pa­pua New Guinea is one of the world’s last great fron­tiers and re­mains largely un­touched by mass tourism.'

In­deed, Honey says the vil­lage stays at­tract adventure trav­ellers rather than mass-mar­ket com­mer­cial tourists.

She says it is a raw, grass­roots ex­pe­ri­ence that helps vil­lagers earn in­come and shows vis­i­tors a very old cul­ture.

Trekking, es­pe­cially on Kokoda, also re­mains a ma­jor draw­card.

Cruis­ing boom

‘Fish­ing, div­ing and other coastal ad­ven­tures are also en­tic­ing peo­ple to PNG shores and, of course, cruis­ing is now mak­ing a dif­fer­ence to vis­i­tor num­bers as well,' says Leigh Read­ing, a sales and mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive with the TPA.

‘Cruis­ing was 2014’s strong­est new trend for the des­ti­na­tion,’ Read­ing says. ‘The ar­rival of a large num­ber of cruise ship op­er­a­tors meant that the des­ti­na­tion was re­quired to adapt to ser­vice a new style of trav­eller. We’re see­ing more mass cruis­ing, such as P&O Cruises, vis­it­ing places like Rabaul and Milne Bay, mak­ing them more ac­ces­si­ble to a new au­di­ence. Trav­ellers are en­ticed by the com­fort of the ship’s ac­com­mo­da­tion and dining op­tions, while still be­ing able to ex­pe­ri­ence the cul­ture and the beauty of the coun­try.’

To em­brace the cruise boom, new jet­ties have been built at Ki­tava and Kai­bola, among other places, but Milne Bay has been the fo­cus of the ships be­cause it al­ready had a good port.

P&O vis­its five PNG ports and is adding Kavieng and Madang to its 2015 itin­er­ar­ies.

‘P&O’S re­turn to PNG was pos­si­ble be­cause of the strong sup­port of the Na­tional Gov­ern­ment and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, par­tic­u­larly in re­la­tion to the pro­vi­sion of in­fra­struc­ture to ac­com­mo­date cruise ship vis­its,’ P&O’S CEO, Anne Sherry, is on the record as say­ing.

Other vis­it­ing cruise com­pa­nies in­clude the Hol­lan­dAmer­ica Line, Ja­pan’s NYK Cruises, the Bri­tish ships Black Watch and Cale­do­nian Sky, French Poly­ne­sia-based Paul Gau­gin, the res­i­den­tial cruise ship The World, Sil­versea and Ha­pag Lloyd. Small-size ex­pe­di­tion ships con­tinue to have a strong pres­ence.

An ob­vi­ous ben­e­fit of the cruise boom is that vil­lage economies are boosted through the pro­vi­sion of shore ex­cur­sions, cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences and the sale of hand­i­crafts.

At­tract­ing in­vestors

Mean­while, the Na­tional Gov­ern­ment, through the TPA, is pro­mot­ing new in­vest­ments in ma­jor tourism fa­cil­i­ties, such as large-scale re­sorts.

Packages, in­clud­ing fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives for in­vestors, are avail­able. Plan­ning guide­lines and suit­able sites have been iden­ti­fied and in­vestors are be­ing sought to de­velop projects.

The TPA says it can help ar­range pre-fea­si­bil­ity and fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies for cer­tain projects and will work closely with other agen­cies to as­sist in iden­ti­fy­ing busi­ness part­ners—lo­cal or for­eign—and as­sist in the li­cens­ing and reg­is­tra­tion clear­ances with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

Robert Upe is Edi­tor of Par­adise, the in-flight mag­a­zine of Air Ni­ug­ini, PNG’S na­tional air­line.

‘There is so much more tourism po­ten­tial in PNG and that’s the story that doesn’t get out.’

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