Interview: Tony Honey
What are the short- and medium-term implications of Covid-19 for the tourism industry, and what measures could help mitigate the fallout?
TONY HONEY: Covid-19 and the related travel restrictions have been disastrous for the tourism industry in Papua New Guinea. While tourism forms a small part of PNG’s economy as a whole, it plays an important role in rural areas and is the only means of livelihood for many inhabitants of these areas. This has left the segment particularly vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic: most tourist destinations are in remote areas, spread over the islands and the Highlands, and access during this period – even for domestic trade – has been non-existent due to border closures. International tourism in PNG has been halted for most of 2020, and disruption looks likely to continue into 2021.
In the short term, once domestic borders can reopen, the government could actively assist in the promotion of internal tourism within PNG through widespread advertising and marketing. The government could also consider waiving domestic air travel taxes and goods and services tax on bookings made to these destinations to encourage activity.
In the longer term, the government should spend around PGK200m ($59m) on advertising PNG’s tourist destinations overseas, which is a considerable increase compared to the small amount that is currently allocated to the Tourism Promotion Authority (TPA). Moreover, the TPA needs to have fair and equal representation that includes private sector investors, small and medium-sized enterprises and landowners, rather than being a solely government-run authority. Additional funding should be made available to private overseas marketing arms appointed by the TPA’s Destination Marketing Representatives. PNG is home to some of the most promising tourism destinations in the world, but they still need to be advertised more effectively.
In what ways is it challenging to operate a tourism establishment in rural PNG, and what can be done to overcome these difficulties?
HONEY: The main challenge in operating in a rural destination is limited access to many of these destinations due to deteriorating roads and bridges and poorly maintained airfields and terminals, as well as inadequate health infrastructure and an insufficient level of security. The high cost of international travel to PNG is also a major deterrent. The question is why would tourists choose to visit PNG when they can travel to Bali or Thailand for one-quarter of the cost. PNG could be considered one of the last tourism frontiers, with its pristine reefs, rainforests, wildlife and rugged mountain ranges. Our diverse culture is not matched anywhere else in the world. These are competitive advantages we must capitalise on.
How can foreign investors in tourism actively contribute to the development of local communities, while continuing to develop the industry?
HONEY: Investors should actively encourage training and education in hotel management, catering, food and beverage, sports and activities, and spa and cosmetic services. They should also promote the local culture, various activities and the full range of destinations. This can be achieved through widespread advertising on their websites and social media platforms. Local communities generally cannot afford this kind of self-promotion, and, as such, they are therefore very reliant on investors promoting their product on their behalf.
In addition, there is scope to further diversify the tourism offering in PNG. For instance, there are currently no high-end resorts in the country, unlike those in bordering countries in the Asia-Pacific region. PNG should look to entice high-end resort chain companies to the country and determine what incentives could be put in place to help achieve this.
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