Sustainable tourism in PNG fundamental to sector growth

 

In line with UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), objectives, Papua New Guinea’s Tourism Promotion Authority (TPA) has placed sustainable tourism development at the core of its organisational goals. These targets aimed at supporting grassroots tourism products have been highlighted in previous government strategies, and continue to serve as the backbone upon which the nation is building its reputation as an increasingly sought-after travel destination.

While extractive industries such as the mining sector generate more export value, tourism provides local communities with additional benefits in the form of environmentally and economically sustainable activities, which have the potential to boost rural incomes in the future. Similarly, the majority of PNG’s adventure attractions rely heavily on unspoiled natural environments, which the government is eager to maintain to ensure travellers gain a unique experience.

As such, efforts to protect the country’s diverse beaches and dense tropical forests are gaining momentum. In order to preserve these and other assets, the government, the TPA, and a host of local and international organisations are working to ensure the viability of the industry for years to come through the implementation of a wide range of projects aimed at habitat conservation and greater community-level involvement in regards to environmental issues.

Speaking to local media in early 2017, Jerry Agus, CEO of the TPA, said, “PNG is gradually gaining recognition for its unique range of tourism opportunities like cruising, trekking, surfing, bird watching, culture and much more. As a result, the TPA is aware of the harmful impact tourism can have on local communities, especially culture and the environment, and is working closely with stakeholders to create processes for sustainable tourism practices and policies.”

Sustainable Tourism

Not unique to PNG, the concept of sustainable development has been increasing in popularity in recent times, however a combination of grassroots projects and high-level events in the first half of 2017 signalled a change in strategy for PNG’s tourism industry. The ramifications of this shifting preference are already spreading across the nation, as operators are making greater efforts to collaborate with traditional communities to protect the country’s rare attractions and natural heritage sites.

Win-win

The implementation of eco-friendly community-based tourism projects has accelerated in recent years. The National Tourism Master Plan ( 2010-17) successfully laid the groundwork for the development of the Surf Management Plan (SMP) initiative, which in turn encouraged the creation of Integrated Management Product Plans (IMPPs). Under the SMP, initiated by the Surfing Association of Papua New Guinea, surf tourism regions in PNG benefit from a levy system where fees are paid directly to local communities. Meanwhile, only a certain number of surfers are permitted on any particular surf site at any given time, which aims to ensure a minimal impact on the environment and local communities, while providing an economic benefit to the area.

The positive influence of various SMPs has led the TPA to adopt its practices and apply them to IMPPs, a similar three-fold benefit levy system focusing on a variety of grassroots tourism products in the country. Aimed primarily at adventure tours, the innovative IMPP project was first launched in Milne Bay, focusing on trekking, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. While the project still has significant room for growth, a select group of partner tour operators are providing a new revenue stream for inland, river and coastal communities near and along the Dawadawa River. With the potential for expansion, more groups are set to benefit from IMPP projects as additional tour operators come onboard, opening new corridors of sustainable tourism across the nation.

Under the project, the IMPP involves local land resource custodians in all aspects of the design and operation of tour packages, while at the same time reaping the rewards from fees and levies collected. Similar to the SMP, visitor groups are kept small with a maximum of 12 people, limiting the environmental impact, while also providing visitors with an intimate and unique experience of the country.

Development Project

The next five-year National Tourism Master Plan, covering the years leading up to 2022, has been bolstered by a new World Bank project approved in June 2017, which consists of credit and funding worth $20m. Speaking at the official announcement of the project, Patricia Veevers-Carter, the World Bank’s country manager for PNG, said, “Tourism offers PNG a winning value proposition: it creates jobs, skills and infrastructure development,” adding, “This integrated project is the first of its kind in PNG, and it will enable the sector to learn the lessons from tourism projects around the world.”

Targeting the provinces of East New Britain and Milne Bay, the funds will be used to upgrade local infrastructure and strengthen the capacity of the sector’s workforce, while also improving planning and the promotion of each destination. The funds have also been earmarked to provide support for community-led micro-enterprises, with a particular focus on creating jobs for women. Accounting for a combined total of 11% of the population, the two provinces have been identified as PNG’s best opportunity to develop grassroots tourism initiatives. Furthermore, the two provinces already have a diverse mix of attractions, and given their geographical location and population size, they have the potential to provide significant economic spillover for the rest of the country.

Road Map

In addition to innovative projects, PNG will play host to a number of key high-level events throughout 2017, which has been declared the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism Development” by the UN. In March 2017 an estimated 200 tourism professionals convened in Port Moresby for the 11th UNWTO Asia-Pacific Executive Training Programme on Tourism Policy and Strategy. While highlighting the significant potential that sustainable tourism development can bring to the region, the first UNWTO event to be held in PNG, which took place over four days, also served as a training programme for both private and public sector tourism players.

With a great number of senior officials attending, and with an emphasis on policy and strategy, the UNWTO event marked the first of its kind in PNG, and has been viewed as a catalyst that will aid the sustainable development of tourism in the country. The coming together of international and local experts gave PNG the opportunity to discuss pertinent issues relating to the development of the nation’s tourism sector. Through a series of lectures, group discussions and debates, 21 foreign delegates representing 16 countries from the Asia-Pacific region shared insights on the best practices, and provided case studies from their respective countries on sustainable tourism.

In addition, the TPA also benefitted from high-level talks on the impacts of climate change, and the ways in which PNG’s tourism industry can contribute to global Sustainable Development Goals, while increasing employment opportunities and alleviating poverty. Addressing the event, Taleb Rifai, the secretary-general of UNWTO, said, “You [PNG] are a blank canvas to the world with the opportunity to fill it with a colourful, beautiful and wonderful image of PNG.”

While the development of the country’s tourism industry remains difficult to predict, its direction towards a more eco-friendly future is well on its way. Likewise, by employing a mix of sustainable practices, travel and tourism operators are now able to offer unique packages to a growing number of international visitors who will benefit from a more efficient travel process, thus generating greater online and word-ofmouth promotion of the country’s many attractions. Furthermore, with international arrivals increasing at an average of 13% since 2002, community-based tourism is growing in importance, both from a grassroots income perspective, and in terms of fostering the nation’s image as a possible holiday destination.

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