Interview: Jerry Agus
What potential economic benefit do you see in building the tourism industry in Papua New Guinea?
JERRY AGUS: The economic benefits of building a thriving tourism industry are enormous. The tourism industry in PNG must be strategically developed during the mining and petroleum boom, as it will serve as a buffer industry to support the economy when the extractive industries are low. The tourism industry is sustainable, and its benefits can trickle down to the community level in rural PNG, where the bulk of our people live.
The national and provincial governments must fully embrace the importance of developing the tourism industry and start allocating resources to build basic infrastructure and facilities in their respective communities so that locals can develop their respective tourism products and services. Almost 97% of the land in PNG is owned by indigenous communities, and this enables our people to be directly involved in tourism activities.
Once our people see the benefits of tourism and engage in various forms of tourism activities that bring financial gains, they abstain from a lot of negative social issues that are now prevalent. Most of the social issues facing communities are a direct result of people moving aimlessly around because there is nothing meaningful for them to engage in.
How can the private sector play a constructive role in achieving a sustainable industry?
AGUS: The government intervenes by building and developing infrastructure and facilities, and by putting more resources into promoting and marketing PNG as a tourism destination. The government’s role is to develop policies and create an environment conducive to private sector investment.
The private sector needs to develop tourism products and services that are acceptable to international and local visitors. Our private sectors must maintain a certain level of service standards, and offer tourism products that are unique and offer value for money to our visiting tourists. They must also be seen to distribute some amount of monetary benefits to local communities and surrounding areas where they operate, so that everyone can embrace and witness the importance of the tourism industry.
One of the most important factors that should be considered by the private sector are the prices they charge for goods and services. PNG is currently one of the most expensive destinations in the region. The private sector needs to reduce costs ranging from airline fares to accommodation and other transport costs. We need to work together to increase arrivals so that we can increase our profit margin through volume rather than through individual sales.
All stakeholders must work together to increase demand via price reduction so that we can attract more visitors. There is also a need for support mechanisms and incentives schemes that would enable the private sector to thrive. Most people venturing into tourism-related business are locals with limited financial capacity, so incentives are a must.
What programmes are in place to develop PNG’s human resources and increase standards?
AGUS: Tourism is a service industry, and we need a huge pool of people who can provide high quality services to our clients. PNG has few universities, technical schools and colleges that offer tourism and hospitality courses. We have a lot of major industry players, like hotels and airlines, that provide in-house training and also sponsor trainings to upskill the labour force.
Slowly, the number of people training to join the tourism workforce is increasing as international arrivals increase. As we foresee an influx of Chinese and other specific groups, we will need to conduct tailor-made training for certain countries and groups so that we can deliver on their expectations. Human resource development is an ongoing priority for us, as highlighted in our tourism master plan as one of the five key pillars.
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