Tourism in Papua New Guinea is on the verge of taking off. Despite the country’s acknowledged potential, tourism is still a relatively under-exploited industry in PNG. But the scenario is changing rapidly. The national government now regards tourism as one of its key priority areas for the generation of income and employment.
“Unity in diversity” accurately describes the diverse terrains, cultures and people which make up the country. From the point of view of geographical setting, the country is a vast, primitive and sensationally beautiful destination for travellers. From a tourist’s viewpoint it is the “last great frontier on earth”. This diversity offers a potential for tourism development in PNG far in excess of that for other countries.
Due to the existence of rich mineral and forest resources, little political attention was focused on this service industry in the past. In 1980 the number of short-term visitors to PNG was 38,823. By 1994 it was still almost at the same level at 38,739. More than half of these visitors are from the neighbouring Oceania region, especially from Australia. The majority are here on business (with a steady increase from Asian countries). Only a third are holidaying visitors, though numbers fluctuate wildly over the years.
This poor performance can be attributed chiefly to a number of factors: restrictive aviation policies, governmental disinterest, high internal travel costs, lack of consistent promotional efforts and adverse and often misappropriate press coverage about law and order problems in certain parts of the country.
All these factors are currently being addressed as part of the country’s new active drive for tourism growth.
The government established a new and specialised body, the Tourism Promotion Authority (TPA) in early 1993 to change the nature of tourism in the country. It is to operate as a stimulus for the private sector by encouraging overall demand for the country as a destination and by encouraging the development of facilities and infrastructure. The high potential in this area has been widely recognised by the World Bank, the Tourism Council of South Pacific and other international institutions.
The TPA’s objective is to market Papua New Guinea overseas and domestically as a tourist destination, thereby stimulating strong economic growth in the sector. At the same time, it is committed to improving the standard of tourism products, facilities and services within the country.
Tourism products include adventure tourism such as diving, surfing, trekking, kayaking and white water rafting. Special interest tourism include bird watching, butterfly watching, game fishing, nature photography and botanist’s studies and culture oriented tourism products. For interested and serious travellers, cruise trips through scenic and culturally vibrant regions such as Milne Bay and Sepik provide a memorable lifetime experience.
One of the major problems for tourism growth in PN G was lack of knowledge about its tourism products in the international market. No country was as largely absent from the tourism map of the world. In the past, no concerted effort was made to improve the situation. Since its inception in 1993, TPA has been very actively engaged in promoting the country’s tourism image in identified markets. It has taken part in all major trade and consumer shows in Western Europe and Australia, in specialised shows in the USA, Japan and Singapore, and has also organised several road shows in Australia and Western Europe. As supportive measures TPA organised familiarisation tours of journalists, photographers, film and television crews and travel industry people from targeted markets. Advertising campaigns in specific product magazines are also ongoing activities of the TPA.
Along with promotional activities TPA has organised several educational and training workshops in sustainable tourism. It has placed high emphasis on training various segments of the industry such as tour guides, tour operators, accommodation units, provincial tourism offices etc. A large, very optimistic tourism awareness campaign for all sections of the people of the country is likely to be initiated shortly.
TPA assists local entrepreneurs with advisory, technical and administrative support. The country is not looking for large-scale urban oriented tourism. It is encouraging small and medium-sized facilities, villagebased, in traditional style guest houses and resorts. Conservation of the country’s ecosystems (land and water) and its traditional culture is the key for developing its tourism future.
Papua New Guinea, with its vast untapped resources for tourism development, has now reached the stage of take-off for fast growth. The TPA’s efforts are already paying off. Of the specific products where the country has a tremendous competitive edge, diving has already attracted considerable attention of the international experts and enthusiasts.
However the number of visitors to any destination cannot increase overnight. International tour operators plan their tour programmes and destinations well in advance. PNG is now being promoted actively by both government agencies and the industry as an exciting tourist destination. With a usual gestation period of about two years, these concerted efforts are likely to yield results from 1996 onwards.
TPA expects there will be a significant upsurge of visitors in the near future, the great majority of them being holiday-makers. It is essential that the momentum and direction initiated by TPA be maintained. At the same time structural bottlenecks in the areas of aviation and other infrastructural areas need to be eased.
Development of a viable tourism industry in PNG can ease many of the economic problems the country is encountering today. It can offer effective solutions to social problems through the creation of employment and income generating opportunities for the unemployed and under-employed youth. PNG has all the prerequisites and potential to develop itself as a major tourism destination within a short period of time. It only requires a concerted effort by all the concerned parties to make it a reality.