Interview: Tony Honey
What potential is there for Papua New Guinea to become an international tourism destination?
TONY HONEY: Anybody who has the chance to visit this country, especially outside the main cities, will see that PNG has great potential for tourism. Everything is here, from unique cultures to pristine reefs and virgin forests. Unfortunately, the country suffers immensely from a bad international image, and this continues to be the main deterrent to growth in the industry. There are countless billboards advertising Fiji all over the Gold Coast of Australia, for example, but none about PNG. On the contrary, it receives regular bad press for incidents that often happen miles away from tourism destinations. People these days travel the world because they want to experience cultural diversity, and PNG has plenty to offer in that sense. The general feeling is that, unless a more coordinated effort — and a bigger budget — is put towards branding PNG internationally, the situation is unlikely to change in the short term.
PNG continues to be an expensive destination. How can one convince a tourist to visit this country given the ever-growing regional competition?
HONEY: It is true that travelling to and within PNG continues to be expensive by international standards. Still, anybody who enjoys bird watching, diving or trekking will be willing to go the extra mile to find the kind of pristine nature that PNG offers.
Because road networks are insufficient, PNG is also expensive for operators, especially those who have invested in remote areas, to which most supplies must be transported by air or sea. Considering that these businesses must deliver their own fuel and generate their own power, inevitably the cost will spill on to the consumer, and this limits the number of people who can truly experience tourism in this country. For that reason, the average tourist would rather go to Thailand or other to some other destination in South-east Asia.
Despite these concerns, PNG is not looking to attract mass tourism at the moment. What is more the focus is how to develop the country’s unique attractions so as to draw the right potential clients.
How can PNG take advantage of the tourism industry’s recent diversification into new markets such as China, India and Russia?
HONEY: New markets will be playing an increasingly important role within the global tourism industry. The Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort, currently under development in Cairns, Australia, is a project funded by Chinese millionaire Tony Fung at an estimated cost of A$6bn-7bn ($5.6bn-6.5bn). It is not too much of a stretch to think that PNG could benefit from the spillover effect of this mega-resort. Then of course there is the cruise ship industry, one of the fastest growing segments in PNG, which offers a unique cultural experience to tourists who want to experience something different than the usual perfect postcard beach.
Port Moresby is for many visitors the port of entry into PNG. How would you assess the government’s efforts to overhaul its infrastructure?
HONEY: There are currently new hotels going up all over Port Moresby, and this says a lot about industry demand, both for developers and for construction companies. The room rates that five-star hotels so far keep on charging, ranging from PGK1000 ($364.50) to PGK1200 ($437.40) a night, are unsustainable, even though these businesses continue to enjoy occupancy rates of around 80-90%. Increased capacity is likely to bring prices down. Everybody would welcome such a development, especially those who come to PNG in transit – predominantly business travellers. If prices are more affordable in the future, Port Moresby could be used as a springboard to discover the rest of the country. The government’s efforts have substantially improved road conditions as well as the services of local hospitals; both development goals were prioritised after independence. If the government can sustain this over the next five years, it would create bigger opportunities for this country.
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