Interview: Peter Vincent

What, in your view, does PNG need to be able to compete on the international stage?

PETER VINCENT: The tourism sector in PNG has never been particularly important as far as the government’s priorities are concerned. However, if we look at our neighbours, tourism is often the only economic sector and so it receives the largest budget in these countries, not including Australia and New Zealand. Since its establishment in 1993, tourism in PNG has never been a priority sector, but over the years, a tourism master plan and eventually a ministry were created. Every player in the industry has a different view of how the sector should be developed and improved. It has never been a coordinated effort and it is extremely difficult to bring everyone together to form one voice. The tourism sector is totally fragmented, and there is an expectation among sector players that PNG TPA should pay for everything associated with the development and promotion of the industry. As an organisation, we have become more focused and have moved away from activities that are wasteful, generic or otherwise not valuable. Since 2001, consistency in TPA’s management has significantly improved coordination and communication in the industry, resulting in a lot of positive changes over the last five years especially. One of the improvements is that funding from governments has consistently been increasing and our activities have become more overseas-focused. We are not after the mass market; we are targeting a niche, high-end market. PNG intends to become a major adventure destination, and we are developing a campaign with CNN and National Geographic to create more awareness and remove the misperceptions that are associated with the country.

Are there any plans to remove visa requirements and fees, and how would that affect the sector?

VINCENT: We have had continuous discussions with the immigration department and all our stakeholders, as tourism cuts across every sector and department. We have been working with the tourism Technical Working Group, following the sector’s master plan, where we have been able to address a lot of issues, one of which is immigration.

Our cruise tourism segment has been consistently increasing, so we need to remove visa fees. We need to make travel more flexible and convenient. For example, we wanted to attract visitors specifically from Russia due to their high disposable income, and have piloted a programme that allows Russian tourists to bypass lengthy administrative procedures and receive visas upon arrival. This scheme has been working very well, and there are now Russian diving tours in PNG’s waters. More importantly, we have started to see some understanding from our various stakeholders and government departments and agencies.

What types of investments in infrastructure are needed to boost the industry?

VINCENT: Even looking at the region, the infrastructures of our competitors in the Pacific region are very basic. PNG is different because our terrain and lack of highways means we need to fly our visitors to our prime tourism destination, and this further increases costs of travel. The cost of operating in PNG for airlines is much higher than that of our neighbours.

We acknowledge that our infrastructural and transportation limitations are restricting and delaying the development of the industry. These infrastructural issues and challenges cannot be addressed by the TPA; they have to be addressed by the government, which needs to take a holistic approach and tackle problems that are creating barriers for private investments. Foreign private investments in tourism are almost nonexistent. For private investors, it is not enough simply to paint a beautiful picture of PNG; attracting investments to the sector will require incentives and tangible benefits. We need to look at concessions and strong incentives to attract private capital to the sector, and this where the government should be focusing.