Business and employment travel into Papua New Guinea has more than tripled in the last 15 years, outperforming leisure travel, which has see marginal growth over the last five years. Robert Upe reports.
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.
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.’
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 per cent 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.
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.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, the National Government, through the TPA, is providing financial incentives for new investments in major tourism facilities, such as large-scale resorts.
Planning guidelines and suitable sites have been identified and investors are being sought to develop projects.