PNG tourism figures lament great unrealised potential
With PNG tourism lagging far behind what it could be in terms of visitor numbers and economic benefits, industry figures indicate a more concerted national effort is needed if PNG tourism hopes to tap more into the mass markets in the longer term.
Papua New Guinea is one of the great places still to be explored by the world's burgeoning numbers of tourists.
For a country with such diverse culture and natural beauty PNG tourism is nowhere near where it could be.
Figures released this month by the World Travel and Tourism Council show PNG is ranked last of 184 countries surveyed in terms of the economic benefits from tourism.
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PNG holds only 10 percent of the Pacific regional tourism market share by contrast to Fiji which holds an impressive 41 per cent.
This is despite Fiji being smaller in size than an average PNG province.
A former PNG Tourism Minister Guma Wao says for him there are two main issues which turn tourists off visiting PNG.
GUMA WAO: The hotels we have in the country, the guesthouses we have, are very expensive. And I think the tourists coming to the country, I think they're scared of law and order in the country.
The international image of PNG as a violent crime hotspot has long been problematic for the industry, according to the head of PNG Tourism Peter Vincent.
He says issues of perception could be turned around if tourism markets knew about the many positive things about PNG.
PETER VINCENT: We have issues with budget constraints and all that. We can't go and do much in overseas media telling everybody what PNG is doing, all the positive stuff that is happening in PNG. Every article you pick up in Australia is about the problems in PNG. They don't talk about the positive things that are happening in PNG. They should balance it out with talking about some of the positive things happening here: the infrastructure development, the development of new hotels coming up.
Sir Peter Barter, who runs the Madang Resort among other tourism ventures, says another problematic area is the lack of travel connections between provinces.
SIR PETER BARTER: So if a tourist wants to come to PNG and they want to visit Rabaul or they want to visit Madang or the Highlands, invariably every time they have to go back to Port Moresby to catch a flight to the other destination and this increase the cost and certainly increases the inconvenience to those passengers.
Peter Vincent says the government recognises the potential of tourism which should be helped by the current focus on addressing PNG's law and order problems.
But he says PNG can do a lot more to realise its tourism potential.
PETER VINCENT: Our focus will still be on the high end of the market. Even though the numbers are small, our current numbers - we are doing about 50 to 70,000 tourist numbers, but this is the high end of the market, and they are here a lot longer than what you see in Fiji and small island countries where they are there just for a few days.
Meanwhile, Sir Peter Barter laments how Madang has been overlooked in recent times as a tourism hub.
SIR PETER BARTER: And now they've opened international airports in Mt Hagen, Alotau and Rabaul and they can get a free visa on arrival if they are Australian, whereas if you come to Madang, you have got to pay a visa. The government has got to sort this out, stop this discriminately practice, which is really deterring operators and agents from sending people into Papua New Guinea.
Sir Peter wants the industry to get together with national and provincial governments to have serious talks about how to grow tourism.
It's clear a more concerted national effort is needed if PNG tourism hopes to tap more into the mass markets in the longer term.
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