With an increase in international sporting events in recent years attracting a growing number of visitors, Sports tourism has emerged a potential growth market for Papua New Guinea. Valued at $600bn a year, and expected to grow annually at around 6% for the next five years, sports tourism is a major contributor to the global travel industry. While PNG represents only a tiny fraction of the total contribution, the hosting of numerous sporting events shows the government’s intent to capture more of this ever-growing market.
There is a consensus that PNG has the ability to harness the economic potential of its tourism industry if it can successfully improve the safety image of the country. By hosting key international sporting events such as the 2015 Pacific Games and the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup in 2016, the country has demonstrated that security concerns are not as serious as what some may believe. Both tournaments were successfully hosted, removing many of the previous doubts surrounding PNG’s capacity to hold such events.
While the women’s Under-20 national team failed to reach the final stages of the tournament, the event itself put the country in the spotlight. “Many of the players, team officials, and family and friends had to Google search PNG,” Jerry Agus, CEO of the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority, told local media. “Initially, they had reservations about coming, but after several weeks in the country, any negative perceptions they may have had were erased,” he added.
The arrival of international teams and FIFA officials in November 2016 generated a visible economic impact. According to local media, PGK25m ($7.9m) was injected into Port Moresby’s local economy during the hosting of the event, with the majority of funds collected by hotels, travel agents, caterers and other tourism-based businesses. In addition, more than 1000 young people were contracted throughout the tournament to assist on match days, more than 300 vehicles were sold for the purpose of transporting teams, officials and supporters, and there was also a sizeable increase in the demand for food and beverage services. The majority of hotels in Port Moresby were fully booked, with one hotel reporting revenue in excess of PGK3m ($951,000) during the four weeks of the tournament. Meanwhile, another hotel reported PGK7m ($2.2m) in revenue for services rendered to FIFA.
Another indirect impact of the event related to the ability of PNG’s hotels and small and medium-sized enterprises to respond to unprecedented levels of demand. For example, kitchens were understaffed and understocked, with certain hotels enlisting the services of outside caterers. Despite these issues, the overall hosting of the event was considered a success, and the exposure gained has acted as a valuable learning curve for the service industry.
While some have criticised the government over the public expenses involved in hosting major sporting events, others argue that the benefits far outweigh the costs in the long run, particularly from a tourism perspective. According to a FIFA statement released to local media, “Events such as [the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup] are a way to speed investments in certain areas and infrastructure that otherwise would be forgotten or would not pass through the political process; it will also leave a huge legacy behind.” Calculating the exact economic impact of hosting an internationally televised event is difficult. Putting economic gains aside, hosting the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup has been viewed as a catalyst for social change in the country by supporting gender equality and women’s rights. PNG is a priority country for the UN’s Women’s Strategic Plan. While it will take more than hosting an international sporting event to improve gender equality, the publicity gained by the women’s national team is a step in the right direction.
Considered an ultimate destination with uncrowded, high-quality waves breaking in untouched locations, one particular sport that continues to grow in PNG is surfing, a multi-billion-dollar global industry. For the first time in its history PNG hosted a World Surf League (WSL) event, with the inaugural Kumul PNG World Longboard Championship taking place in March 2017. While it marked the first time the country has welcomed some of the world’s best longboard surfers under the umbrella of an international competition, the nation’s reputation as a surfing destination has been growing in recent years, with an increasing number of tour operators specialising in surfing trips along the coastline. This has given rise to a number of surf camps across the country, with notable developments in Sandaun, Madang and New Ireland.
Surf tourism is in the midst of an transformation that is improving adventure tourists’ access to PNG’s extensive coastline, while at the same time bringing about economic opportunities to coastal communities. The Surfing Association of Papua New Guinea (SAPNG), in conjunction with the surfing industry, tour operators and traditional reef custodians, have developed a number of Surf Management Plans (SMPs). The SMPs serve as an agreement for the development of a surf club, while generating a passive income stream for local communities in the form of levies paid by the club. The majority of earnings are then used for school supplies, while a small portion of the fees are also used to support the development of surfing as a sport at the village level. According to SAPNG’s website, there are six locations for SMPs, including four in New Ireland and one each in Sandaun and Madang.
PNG is also rising among the ranks as a kite surfing destination, with the potential to capture the growing number of kite surfers travelling the globe seeking the right conditions. Although it does possess the right mix of ingredients to grow as a surfing destination, the development of the sector might prove complex, as PNG’s uncrowded surf breaks are a main drawcard for many tourists. However, in an effort to protect this offering, a component of the SMP stipulates that surf clubs can only host a maximum of 20 surfers at any one time within the managed area.
The overall success of any sporting event is dependent upon event management, with PNG showing its capability in this field. While security concerns have hindered tourism in the past, one tangible advantage of hosting international sporting events is the improved image that PNG has gained as a result.
Indeed, it is evident that the significance of hosting international sporting events goes well beyond the direct revenue generated, with recent events giving PNG greater global visibility, subsequently boosting the country’s marketing strategy. It has also assisted with infrastructure development in the form of new stadiums, hotels and transportation networks, as well as providing important cross-cultural exchanges. These kinds of developments translate into long-term benefits for local communities. While the tourism industry has a number of potential stumbling blocks that need to be addressed, PNG’s decision to bid, host and invest in sporting events should yield rewards for years to come.
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