Opinion: Why Papua New Guinea is a unique tourism destination


Papua New Guinea offers some unique tourism options, according to Bob Bates, owner of Trans Niugini Tours. But he says it has some distinct challenges as well.

Trans Niugini Tours’ Ambua Lodge. Source: TNT

What does Papua New Guinea have to offer the international visitor? The country is part of a huge island with its northern border the equator. In fact, it is the second largest island on earth (Greenland is the largest).

It would take two hours in a jet to fly the length of the island.

PNG still has large tracts of Amazon jungle-type rainforests and occasional snow-capped mountains—and every ecosystem that you can imagine in between. The main central range down the centre is the highest mountain range between the Himalayas and the Andes.

Recent earthquakes caused by the Australasian Plate sliding up over the Asian plate mean the mountains are getting even higher.

‘The perceived law and order problem is probably the largest factor in limiting the growth of tourism in PNG.’

If we hang around for another million years we might see our Mount Wilhelm become higher than Mount Everest. That would create a great tourist attraction!

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Little interference

Trans Niugini Tours’ Bob Bates. Source: WBG

Trans Niugini Tours is a private company that started as a small bus operation in the mid-1970s. It has grown steadily over the last 40 years and now employs more than 250 people.

The development of the company has been challenging over the years, with many local issues cropping up to be solved.

There has been little interference from the government in allowing the company to grow and develop the way it has, and currently there are double tax deductions for overseas promotion.

However, there has also been not a lot of support from the government in resolving some of the land issues that we have faced over the years.

While PNG has had a small number of security issues with international visitors it is important that the government also recognises this and makes the security of international visitors a priority. The perceived law and order problem is probably the largest factor in limiting the growth of tourism in PNG.

Our growth over the years has been steady and every asset that we have we own, so there are no outstanding bank loans or overdrafts.


When you compare PNG to other South Pacific countries, the tourism potential is enormous: nature, culture, beaches, mountains, forests.

It suffers not only from bad media reporting, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, but also from lack of infrastructure, especially roads. Transportation and accommodation are expensive.

‘Our tourist seasons are governed by the travel habits of people who live in the northern hemisphere.’

But it makes up for it by being a truly unique destination that has culture and nature that cannot be witnessed anywhere else on earth.

Year round

PNG is a year-round destination. We are located in that narrow band between 10 degrees north and 10 degrees south of the equator known as The Doldrums; the country does not experience the extremes of weather.

We do not get the cyclones, hurricanes or typhoons that are often associated with the tropics; instead, we get a daily weather pattern rather than a seasonal one.

Our tourist seasons are governed by the travel habits of people who live in the northern hemisphere because the Europeans want to travel in their summer holidays and the Americans want to be home by Thanksgiving and Christmas.

PNG is not a mass tourism destination but it is exciting and culturally rich for that select group of people who have been everywhere else.

Bob Bates is the founder and Managing Director of Trans Niugini Tours. This text is based on his recent speech to the UK-PNG Trade and Investment Forum in London.

About Trans Niugini Tours

Trans Niugini Tours manages lodges, vehicles, boats and aircraft. It is the owner/operator of Ambua Lodge, Rondon Ridge in the PNG Highlands, Bensbach Wildlife Lodge, Lake Murray Lodge in the Western Province, the Karawari Lodge, the MV Sepik Spirit in the Sepik area and the Malolo Plantation Lodge on the north coast.

The company has set up The Foundation for Grassroots Economic Development to encourage the establishment of small, sustainable local businesses

It designed and constructed the Kuk Interpretive Centre at the UNESCO World heritage site near Mount Hagen, where evidence of gardening exists from 9500 years ago.

Another project was the erection of a historical sign at Lake Murray, PNG’s largest inland lake, to commemorate well-known Australian photographer Frank Hurley, who visited the area almost 100 years ago.


  1. Bob, very interesting and totally agree even coming from New Caledonia. I shall send you a video soon on how to drive trust/transparency from tourists to tribes using http://www.c5v.org a PnG locally owned startup. More to come.

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