Interview: Heidi Kunkel
What tourism-related lessons can Papua New Guinea learn from its regional partners?
HEIDI KUNKEL: There are some key lessons that PNG can learn from the Fiji tourism landscape. PNG and Fiji have similarities because they are both endowed with natural diversity and rich cultural traditions. The tourism sector in Fiji has marketed the country extensively over the last decade and in turn gained a solid reputation of being a safe and friendly destination, attracting both international business and leisure travellers. The government of PNG may first consider improving facilities and infrastructure in the tourism township and rural areas across the country before a substantial amount is invested into marketing and promotion. In addition, the government could also consider external factors that affect the nature of tourism, such as inflation, safety concerns, environmental issues, and technology and political trends. Once this happens, the appropriate training and support will be needed for all workers.
An ongoing challenge is to ensure that the hospitality sector in PNG understands what is expected from staff in terms of service, grooming, reliability and behaviour. From that point, education and extensive marketing will be paramount to changing the negative perception of tourism in PNG and making the country a highly desirable destination as a whole.
To what extent has APEC 2018 impacted tourism?
KUNKEL: APEC 2018 was a wonderful opportunity to enhance PNG’s profile on the global stage and to showcase all that Port Moresby has to offer to both business and leisure travellers. Countless government officials, diplomats, business leaders and journalists were spread across Port Moresby’s hotels, and some had the opportunity to travel through PNG. Hotels were given plenty of opportunity to showcase their ample services and conference facilities.
The experience of APEC delegates was positive, resulting in favourable feedback regarding the quality and variety of accommodation across the city. Therefore, we hope that the APEC conference successfully conveyed that the hotel and events infrastructure in Port Moresby has been developed to a high standard and is capable of meeting the needs of international business travellers. There is still work to be done, but APEC-related infrastructure development and recent project announcements in the resource sector have already led to success for the hotel industry.
How can future developments in infrastructure strengthen PNG’s tourism sector?
KUNKEL: PNG’s natural resources are a key asset in attracting visitors. The destination offers an array of snorkelling, diving, surfing and trekking activities. Infrastructure around these key natural assets in particular needs to be better developed in order to be price competitive, professional, reliable and safe. This includes affordable accessibility by air and by road, as well as reliable security and health care services in order to compete with sizeable tourism markets in the Pacific.
PNG’s natural resources are often located in remote areas where it may be more challenging to improve infrastructure than in urban areas such as Port Moresby. Regardless, the supply chain for tourism providers needs to be secure. For example, diving and fishing charter operators have to be able to offer clean and well-serviced equipment, while trekking services must be able to offer better medical facilities for visitors. Improving the quality of available facilities, infrastructure and services will promote the country’s image and may boost tourists’ interest in the area.
The importance and impact of infrastructure developments can already be seen in Port Moresby. Several big events over the years have led to infrastructure improvements and the construction of new facilities across the city. One notable example is our ongoing partnership with Star Mountain Plaza, which resulted in the opening of Hilton Port Moresby in October 2018.
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