Papua New Guinea playing a long game

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Having just hosted the 15th annual Pacific Games, which ended this month, Papua New Guinea is hoping to build on that success to set itself up as a regional venue for international sporting and political events.

Held on July 4-18, the Pacific Games saw 3000 athletes from 24 nations, including Australia and New Zealand, compete in 28 different sports at venues in and around Port Moresby, many of which were built specifically for the tournament.

Around PGK1.2bn ($433m) was allocated to build or upgrade sporting facilities, as well as surrounding infrastructure and communications, while the games also provided the impetus for other major infrastructure projects, such as expansion of the main terminal at Jacksons International Airport and a road flyover connecting the airport to the Sir John Guise Stadium in Waigani.

The flyover, estimated to cost just over PGK160m ($57.8m), is expected to ease congestion and reduce traffic times, while the extension of the international terminal building, estimated at PGK100m ($36.2m), should dramatically reduce the average passenger processing time from between seven and 10 minutes to just three, according to the National Airports Corporation.

Sports business

The new venues and stadiums in Port Moresby should not be idle for long, and facilities in secondary cities such as Lae and Kokopo will also be put to use when football takes centre stage in 2016 and rugby possibly the year after. In March FIFA awarded the nation the rights to stage the U-20 Women’s World Cup, to be held in October and November 2016. The government has allocated PGK10m ($3.63m) to fund the hosting of the games, and an additional PGK2m ($725,000) to the national team ahead of the event.

If successfully organised and held, it should convey to the world that PNG is capable of hosting large-scale events, as well as provide significant marketing exposure for the country’s sights and sounds to an international television audience. The tournaments should also serve as a prelude and vote of confidence for 2018, when PNG will act as the host country for the APEC summit.

The awarding of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup is considered a landmark for the country, as unlike the Pacific Games, which is a regional event and one that PNG has hosted before, the tournament is truly global, with 24 teams being represented. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has stated that PGK10m ($3.78m) worth of funding will go towards the event.

Additionally, in early July PNG was named as host for the 2016 Commonwealth Weightlifting Championships, beating Fiji in the race to stage the event.  

Business tourism

In 2018 PNG’s coming of age in the international arena will see it transition from sports to diplomacy with the hosting of the APEC summit. The 21-member bloc accounts for close to half the world’s trade and commerce, and PNG’s host status is viewed by Prime Minister O’Neill as a validation of the country’s growing economic and bilateral prominence within the grouping.

 Next May, PNG will also host the 2016 African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) Leaders’ Summit. Addressing a meeting of ACP ambassadors in Brussels in late June, O’Neill said the government “has the logistical and substantive capacity required to stage such large-scale events”, noting anticipated GDP growth of close to 15% this year.

Of the 182,188 inbound visitors recorded by the Tourism Promotion Authority in 2013, less than a quarter, or 41,000, were categorised as leisure travellers. This reflects the trend of business travel in the country, which has more than tripled since 2002, outpacing the growth in visitors coming for leisure purposes, which has only increased by around 10,000 people over the past five years.

Value for money

Despite the perceived economic benefits, the government’s focus on attracting events like the Pacific Games has garnered some criticism. Paul Barker, director of the PNG Affairs Institute, a local think tank, said that funds allocated for the games would have been better spent on meeting the country’s UN Millennium Development Goals.

“A focus on status projects, often overpriced, deflects resources from core priorities,” he told regional media in June. “Big sports events or other once-off events don’t provide much long-term economic benefit, but can cost an awful lot, although they don’t need to cost so much.”

In the lead up to the games, the government acknowledged that rising costs and project delays did create budgetary pressure, but argued that the benefits from the tournament − such as improved sporting infrastructure, promotion of the country as an events host and future tourism earnings − would outweigh any costs incurred.

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