The APEC Leaders’ Summit in November 2018 put Papua New Guinea firmly on the map, but work remains to ensure the country’s tourism industry successfully capitalises on its time in the international spotlight. Over 9000 international visitors descended on Port Moresby for the two-day event, booking out the city’s hotels and requiring three Australian cruise ships to dock in the harbour to accommodate the overflow.
Visitors spent an estimated PGK200m ($60.7m) over the course of the event. The government allocated a budget of $330m in the run-up to the conference, in addition to $72m for the construction of the summit centrepiece APEC Haus. However, observers suggest spending far exceeded these figures, with the IMF estimating in 2016 that the summit would cost $1.5bn over three years. While this high level of expenditure faced some pushback, then-Prime Minister Peter O’Neill argued that the benefits far outweighed the costs. Leveraging the event to develop the tourism industry could help tap into a growing sector that contributed $1.4trn to the regional economy in 2017, according to the UN World Tourism Organisation, and which the World Travel & Tourism Council expects will indirectly support 200m jobs in Pacific Rim countries by 2028.
Domestic and international reaction to the incident-free event cycle has been broadly positive. “The APEC summit was significant because it introduced PNG to the world and presented what it has to offer,” Ian Clough, chairman of retail chain Brian Bell Group, told OBG. “We have started to see more interest from international investors as a result.”
Significantly, images of a clean, functional and culturally rich Port Moresby were presented worldwide over the course of the highly publicised APEC Leaders’ Summit events. In particular, the country received unprecedented amounts of airtime on TV in China, a potentially massive source market for tourists. “The APEC summit put PNG on the map in China – whereas before people did not even know the country’s Chinese name,” Everett Chue, corporate manager of the domestic manufacturer Pacific Industries.
Addressing the perception that PNG is unsafe is essential if the country is to grow its tourism industry. Cooperation with other states in the run-up to the event helped to improve the nation’s crime-prevention infrastructure. Notably, the Chinese government installed 200 PNG police-monitored CCTV cameras throughout key areas of Port Moresby. Additional event preparations with a lasting impact on the country include $20m in investment to upgrade Jacksons International Airport, improvements to the capital’s road infrastructure and a boom in hotel building.
However, the rapid increase in Port Moresby’s hotel offering has also brought some short-term pain for the sector. “The hotel industry went crazy ahead of the APEC summit, with the number of hotel rooms in Port Moresby going from 1000 to 2200,” Yiannis Nicolaou, general manager of the Lamana Hotel, told OBG. “However, the occupancy rate has dropped in 2019, meaning hotel operators have reduced their rates, but labour costs remain the same.”
The conference also bestowed Port Moresby with two new convention centres: APEC Haus and the Kutubu Convention Centre. In addition, a newly expanded $27m International Convention Centre (ICC) was completed in April 2018. The door is now open to develop PNG as a market for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions. This growing potential was highlighted in May 2019 when the National Coffee Symposium was held at the ICC.
A number of tourism initiatives also received funding as part of the APEC summit, such as a study on how best to develop the cruise tourism segment focusing on small enterprise participation, alongside a project to improve digital skills among women in the tourism industry and a programme aimed at fostering “voluntourism” in PNG. However, not everyone felt such initiatives were the most effective use of limited resources.
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