Papua New Guinea’s tourism prospects ‘enormous’, says Coral Sea Hotels GM

Papua New Guinea has untapped leisure tourism potential, according to Marc Ehler, recently appointed Group General Manager of Coral Sea Hotels. After a busy APEC year, he tells Business Advantage PNG he is expecting greater competition in 2019.

Coral Sea Hotels’ Marc Ehler. Source: Coral Seas

‘The leisure and adventure tourism prospects in PNG are enormous,’ observes Marc Ehler, who joined the Steamships-owned Coral Sea Hotels chain at the start of the year.

Ehler, who has visited 70 countries and worked in many of them—across in Europe, ASEAN, Middle-East, Africa and Central Asia—says there are some ‘interesting parallels’ between Papua New Guinea and African countries.

Ehler says a comparison with the Maldives and Seychelles is instructive.

‘They have “sun, sea and sand” only and they are hugely successful in tourism.

‘Here, PNG has so much more: the fauna and the flora, the bird life, the mountains, game fishing, extraordinary diving, the cultural shows, and the tribes. You can truly experience “a million different journeys” as PNG Tourism Promotions Authority’s slogan suggests.

‘PNG’s culture is very natural. It is not staged, and that is very unique.

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‘When you go to the countryside, you get to know the real culture, and during the cultural shows tourists love to “sing-sing” and dance along.

‘What is currently present are niche tourism markets, which focus on mountaineering and diving and history with all the war cemeteries—Kokoda being one of the most famous attractions for historical tourism.’

Business customers

Ehler says Coral Sea Hotels is mainly targeting corporate and business segments of the travel market. He says the company is one of the ‘longest standing’ hotel operators in PNG and has a country-wide network that is the key to maintaining a corporate clientele.

‘I can offer a three-, four- and five-star hotel; that gives us a good range.’

‘We have a competitive advantage in terms of being well known in the market because of our long standing presence in PNG.

‘We have different types of hotels whereby we can position ourselves in different star categories.

‘I can offer a three-, four- and five-star hotel; that gives us a good range for the contract business segment to offer different categories for different needs.

‘The challenge will be 2019 and beyond.’

‘If there are meeting requirements in Port Moresby, Mt Hagen, Lae, Goroka and Kiunga we can offer that as being part of the Coral Sea Hotels.’

APEC

Ela Beach Hotel. Source: Coral Sea Hotels

Ehler says this year will be a good one because of the many APEC meetings and the APEC Leaders meeting in November. He says Coral Sea has a strong position.

‘We compete on the fact that we have been here for a long time, we have very good connections, and we have long-standing relationships with contracted corporate business.’

‘The challenge will be 2019 and beyond.’

He acknowledges there will be greater competition with another new hotel entry, the Hilton, coming at the end of this year. In Port Moresby, the total number of rooms ‘of decent international quality’ will be about 2200 by end of this year, and they need to be filled.

Papua New Guinea ‘is also an expensive destination’ to get to, he notes.

‘Eventually, when the air accessibility is opened up for a little bit of competition, then I think this unique destination will become more affordable and that will attract more tourists.

‘That is key to competing with highly successful tourism destinations in southeast Asia, Australia and the Pacific region.’

Management

Ehler says he is ‘pleasantly surprised’ by his local staff. ‘I find people quite courteous and keen for new knowledge.

‘There is certainly potential there, but we need to do more in mentoring and coaching managers.’

The company is developing and introducing senior management programs and has 18 senior managers in a development program.

From those programs it will be possible to grow and develop national managers to become better and more effective managers in our hotels, he says.

One of the areas for improvement, says Ehler, is leadership and managerial skills. He points to a need to better understand ‘discipline and firm management and being able to direct resources, especially human resources, and work more efficiently’.

The new undersea cable from Australia to PNG will also be important for both the business and tourism markets.

‘Obviously, you want to really experience the destination, so connectivity at first may not be that important.

‘But, later on, you will want to send the pictures of the amazing nature and underwater corals and ocean life, people and cultural shows you have taken.

‘So, it is overall significant that Australia is providing this kind of support to PNG.’

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