‘Left to fend for itself’: the Papua New Guinea tourism industry’s plan for welcoming back international tourists


While it awaits clarity from government on its future, Papua New Guinea’s troubled tourism industry has come up with some of its own ideas on how to restart international tourism to the country. Here’s what some of the key operators told Business Advantage PNG.

Credit: Lissenung Island Resort via Facebook

Has the global pandemic hurt any industry like it has tourism, a sector that is predicated on the free movement of people around the globe? Last month, the Business Council of PNG found that the tourism and hospitality sector has been the hardest hit by the COVID crisis, with a third of businesses reporting that their first half revenue for 2021 was down more than 50 per cent on projected revenue. The industry is tipped to have lost over K500 million to COVID, with an 82 per cent drop in international arrivals, according to PNG’s Tourism Promotion Authority (TPA).

While there is some domestic tourism activity, there is no information yet on when the issuing of international tourist visas can be restarted in PNG. Operators are hurting and they have recently decided to take matters into their own hands.

Vaccinating their way to open borders

‘The industry has been left to essentially fend for itself on the street like a little child,’ says Andy Abel, President and Co-founder of the Surfing Association of PNG, who also sits on the board of the PNG Tourism Industry Association. ‘I have been very critical of this but I am now rallying all the relevant stakeholders to play their part to say to government that you may have forgotten us and yet COVID has directly impacted so many, business, jobs, and foreign exchange.’

‘We cannot sit around bitching all day. What is our solution?’

Abel’s answer has been to form a working group with a range of stakeholders, from airlines and airport to resorts and hotels, to help set out a path for them to resume welcoming tourists from overseas. The starting point is to try and raise vaccination rates in PNG, one of the least-vaccinated countries in the world, at just under 2 per cent of the total population.

‘What I have suggested is an awareness campaign to say everyone has to get vaccinated, because unless we increase that 2 per cent rate up to 60, 70 or even 80 per cent like Fiji, then international borders will not open and that is the bottom line,’ Abel says. ‘We cannot sit around bitching all day. What is our solution?’

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Understanding the reach of tourism

At Lissenung Island Resort in Kavieng, Angelique Amon says she is amazed by the resilience of international tourists who have had to abandon their plans to come to PNG. ‘The people want to come, we are changing bookings from month to month. That’s how keen people are,’ she tells Business Advantage PNG.

Amon would like to see a visa trial extended to international tourists that give them the same benefits that business visa holders currently enjoy. (Currently, business visa holders from ‘non-high-risk countries’ who have tested negative to COVID-19 and are fully vaccinated can enter PNG without the need to quarantine.)

‘It is of great concern to tourism operators that tourist visa holders cannot enter the country, regardless of vaccination status or a safe country origin unless they have permission from the Controller [Pandemic Controller David Manning]. The process of applying for, and being granted an exemption can be lengthy, therefore putting tourists off from visiting PNG,’ Amon adds.

‘The tourists may have stopped but the tax and paperwork for the government have not.’

‘We are not just depending on Australian tourists, but currently more on European and US tourists. Most of Europe is considered low-risk, and while Australia still has all these lockdowns, the Europeans are more than ready to travel. Before COVID, our biggest market was actually the German-speaking market at 25.1 per cent vs Australia at 21.5 per cent.’

Amon points out that the tourist dollar in PNG is spread widely, with many relying on tourism activity to put food on the table.

Isolating in paradise

Amon and her fellow resort operators are also looking at the idea of allowing exemptions for low-risk activities such as surfing or diving. They understand that, in the case of the Kokoda Trail, an infected person could possibly spreading the COVID-19 virus from one village to the next during a seven-to-nine day trek.

On the other hand, tourists who book a surfing, diving or fishing holiday will stay with the same operator for their entire trip, therefore the risk of them passing the virus on is fairly limited. If they are contained to a single island resort, the risk is even lower.


‘All of the tourism businesses in PNG need to be taken care of before they go to the wall,’ says Shaun Keane, owner of Nusa Island Retreat in Kavieng.

He believes in a well-though-out reopening and says that certain offerings like boat stays or island resorts do provide options for a trial, but all come with some risk.

‘My facility is less that a kilometre from the shores of town, so I would need to look at how we do business and put a break on day guests,’ he tells Business Advantage PNG.

Above all, he supports the current raising of voices in the industry which has been so quiet for so long. Keane thinks the country should look at incentives, pilot programs and anything that gets tourist back to PNG. As he points out: ‘the tourists may have stopped but the tax and paperwork for the government have not.’


  1. John Hocknull says

    The greatest number of tourists to PNG are cruise ship guests.
    Upwards of 2500 guests per ship and with the reassignment of ships between Princess Cruises and P&O Australia the numbers will increase.
    The cruise lines will require major changes to the eligibility to cruise requirements and this will impact on the destinations in PNG.
    The cruise lines will require the tour operators in the various ports they visit to be fully vaccinated and to have fully vaccinated staff and also those the guests are likely to come into contact with.
    The guests will be controlled in their interactions with the local people and it will become evident that No Jab No Contact will be the norm.
    If TPA wants to make sure PNG benefits into the future they will need to promote vaccination by the communities that service cruise ships to guarantee they are considered for inclusion.
    No jab, no inclusions in the tourism industry in PNG!!!!

  2. jim Drapes says

    While commending Mr Abel for his vigorous attitude in wanting tourists coming back to PNG, I point out shortsightness to suggest that Kokoda trekkers walking the Kokoda Track will make any difference to the PNG population falling victim to the disease. With2- 3% of the pop currently vaccinated and from my research and efforts to date, resulting in generating zero enthusiasm by anyone to get vaccinated including leaders, PNG may be yet to face the worst.
    As Mr Abel states vaccinations should currently be the priority. Tourists who are fully vaccinated, coming from low risk countries, and who test negative before and after arrival in PNG , whether their final destination is a surfing spot or Kokoda Track, the vaccinated tourists will have far more risk of picking up the virus from the locals they meet and spreading it.
    Whether a supposedly isolated diving island or a mountain track or village, all tourists, all locals who move to or from their isolated island or village will/might of course contribute to the spread. The spread is happening.
    We all want to restart our tourism industries, surfing, trekking etc.
    As the article correctly states, “all tourism businesses in PNG” (hotels , bus .surfers, fly fisherman in the highlands. bird watchers whatever, whoever) “should be taken care of.”….whatever that means.

  3. I agree with Mr Abel. I am an Australian based travel agent, operating independently, and I’d be happy to work with PNG to bring back international visitors to this beautiful part of the world.


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