Fly into Port Moresby the capital city of Papua New Guinea and within an hour you can be walking in upland rainforest looking for birds of paradise. There are a lot of overworked words in the tourist brochures. Paradise is one of them – but the Raggiana bird of paradise is the PNG national emblem. It has a splendid reddish plumed tail and a ‘wah wah’ call which echoes through the forest. It is a bright metaphor for the variety and difference that is PNG.
The dilemma that faces PNG, is how to exploit its natural beauty, its culture and tradition without destroying them. Compared to its neighbours in the Pacific and in Indonesia, PNG has barely begun to engage in the tourism market. Even the figure of 38,000 tourists is admitted to be optimistic, for it includes many ‘business people’ dodging their high visa rate. Many provinces can count their tourists in hundreds per year rather than thousands yet they all look to tourism as a source of revenue.
PNG can learn from the experience of other destinations. Mass tourism which brings the tourists in by jumbo jet and deposits them in resort complexes rarely benefits the local people and barely benefits the national economy. The money tends to stay ‘out there’ in the global network of wheeler-dealing which benefits those who are already rich.
Eco-tourism is another overworked term. It can benefit local people but needs careful nurturing before the costs are truly won back. It is only a very few inveterate travellers who will put up with poor transportation, accommodation and food. Even eco-tourists have limited time. They want to get to their destination and out with the minimum of delay. They want clean water, clean toilets and sustaining food. The PNG villagers can provide all of these requirements but only with help.At present PNG is a very expensive destination for tourists. It is expensive to get to it, expensive to move around, expensive to stay in hotels. Those tourist operations that are successful are geared to up-market travellers. Opening up the market base will mean reducing costs. It is possible that eco-tourism operating in an improved infrastructure will be the answer.