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Sharp rise in PNG visitor arrivals expected

Papua New Guinean tourism operators flew the flag in Australia last weekend at the South Pacific Tourism Exchange at Melbourne’s Convention and Exhibition Centre. Robert Upe reports visitor arrivals are expected to rise, due in part to cruise ships improving tourists’ perceptions of PNG.

The South Pacific Tourism Exchange is the region’s largest travel and tourism business-to-business event, offering a program of meetings and events between tourism operators and the travel agencies that sell their holidays.

There were more than 80 operators from 16 countries, including PNG’s Tourism Promotion Authority, Walindi Plantation Resort, Buna Treks and Tours, Tufi Resort, Trans Niugini Tours, Lissenung Island Resort, and PNG Trekking.

Tracking well

Peter Vincent, the Chief Executive Officer of the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority (TPA), told Business Advantage PNG at the show that the country’s tourism sector is tracking well.
He said PNG attracts 200,000 arrivals annually, with 50,000 of them being leisure visitors, mainly from Australia.
‘We expect total visitor arrivals to increase to 350,000 by 2017,’ he said.

Adventure destination

But Vincent cautioned that people should not expect PNG to become a mass-tourism destination.

‘We are going to remain as an adventure destination. We are not going to be a mass-tourism destination.

‘People point to the big tourism numbers of Fiji, which gets 600,000 or 700,000 visitors annually, and then ask what are we doing?

‘But there are no lessons to be learnt from Fiji. We are in two different markets altogether.

‘They are after a mass market and we are after an upmarket sort of thing. In Fiji, people stay three to four days in the islands; in PNG people stay a minimum of 20 days and maximum of 35 days. The longer they stay, the more money they are going to spend.’

Vincent said small gains in holiday arrivals are being made in segments such as bird watching, diving and trekking, all of which dropped after 2009’s air crash that killed nine Australians on a Kokoda trek.

He said perceived safety issues for travellers in PNG and the relatively high cost of airfares and accommodation are other factors that have stymied significant growth in tourism numbers.

Cruising strategy

But the segment that is really taking off is cruising.

‘In 2013, we (TPA) decided to develop a cruise tourism strategy because the perception of PNG with safety and security was still pretty bad, particularly among Australians. We thought cruising could show travellers PNG in a different way,’ Vincent said.

‘As a result, we have had P&O operating here since 2013 and now others have followed. We wanted to brand PNG as an emerging destination and that’s exactly what has happened. The numbers are growing and looking good.’

Vanuatu bounces back

Last weekend’s South Pacific Tourism Exchange was the second, following on from Auckland last year.

The exchange provided an interactive platform for operators to do business, but also a forum to share news about the region, including Vanuatu’s recovery since Cyclone Pam, which hit the archipelago in March 2015.

Linda Kalpoi, the General Manager of the Vanuatu Tourism Office, told Business Advantage PNG in an exclusive interview that the country had recovered faster than expected and she urged tourists to return:

‘All of our tour operators are back on line, as well as 70 per cent of our accommodation, which has returned bigger and better (due to renovations and rebuilding work).’

Solomons serious

Meanwhile, the Solomon Islands revealed that it has an ambitious plan to turn tourism into a major economic contributor to the country in the next five years.

‘The reality is that for the first time the Solomon Islands government is serious about tourism and has committed major resources to the sector,’ said Josefa Tuamoto, the CEO of the Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau.

A key tenet of the plan—which aims for a 9 per cent growth in visitor numbers over the five years—is to increase tourism sector development.