Tourism in Papua New Guinea: strategy hitting the mark


Figures on visitor arrivals to Papua New Guinea indicate that business travel and tourism are growing but there has been a falling interest in the MICE market. The number of people coming to PNG for employment increased markedly.

Mt Hagen Show. Credit: PNG Tourism Promotion Authority/David Kirkland

The Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority’s (PNG TPA) annual visitor arrivals report shows overall growth in visitors to PNG, with tourism and business visitors helping to offset a drop in meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) travellers.

There was also a sharp 35 per cent increase in visitors for employment purposes, with 16,735 more arrivals coming to PNG to work in 2019 than came in 2018 – a six-year high. Over half that increase came from two countries: the Philippines (up 73 per cent in just one year) and China (up 66 per cent). Employment arrivals from Indonesia, India, Oceania, the USA and Africa also rose significantly.

Financial impact

Visitors bring money with them to spend in PNG. Total visitor expenditure in 2019 was estimated to be K1.5 billion, an increase of seven per cent compared with 2018.

‘Out of the total expenditure, it was estimated that genuine tourists had spent a total of K715 million, an increase of two per cent, or K15 million, of additional spending into the PNG economy compared to the K700 million spent by genuine tourists in 2018.’

The report says the increase in expenditure by tourists was a ‘direct result’ of an increase in holiday arrivals and the length of stay in the country.

‘PNG received over 210,000 international visitors in 2019. This was an increase of eight per cent or additional 16,000 arrivals to the country compared to 2018,’ according to the report. The 2019 rise came after a period of ‘slow growth’ in 2017 and 2018 (in 2017 numbers actually fell).

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The overall increase in visitor numbers occurred despite a fall in the number of MICE visitors – in 2018, this sector was boosted by PNG’s hosting of APEC. The number of MICE visitors fell by 40 per cent, from 6,373 to 3,818.

Business travellers

Out of the total arrivals, 22 per cent came for business. The number of business travellers coming to PNG was up four per cent in 2019, from 45,450 to 47,113. China business arrivals fell markedly by 44 per cent and are at a five-year low but Malaysian business arrivals rose by half and UK business arrivals were up 35 per cent. US and Filipino business arrivals also rose.

Although providing by far the largest source of business travellers, Australian business arrivals have flattened and are at their lowest level in six years.


Of the remaining visitors, ’36 per cent were on holiday – including tourists who came on cruise ships – five per cent came to visit friends and relatives, 30 per cent came for employment, three per cent came for MICE and the remaining four per cent visited the country for other reasons,’ the report said.

‘This upward trend is expected to continue in 2020 as the TPA has set out clear long and short-term plans to develop the tourism industry.’

PNG’s closest neighbour, Australia, still accounts for the majority of arrivals, with a 51 per cent share of the visitor market, up four per cent. New Zealand saw a sharp lift in visitor numbers. It grew by 29 per cent, which the report says is attributable to targeted tourism marketing.

In the Asian region, the biggest changes came in arrivals from China (up 30 per cent), India (up 142 per cent) and Korea (up 78 per cent). Japan is the only Asian country that went backwards; with arrivals off five per cent. But this follows a sharp rise of 35 per cent in 2018, so represented a levelling out of previous strong growth.

PNG’s performance was below trend for the region. The report says the number of visitors in the Oceania region rose 18 per cent in 2019.

Tourism message getting through

In terms of areas visited, Milne Bay Province rated highest, although numbers were slightly lower than in 2018. The next most popular provinces were East New Britain and Morobe.

The high visitation to Morobe, New Ireland, Enga, Western, Southern Highlands/Hela Provinces is attributed to the increased business and mining activities in the areas, while most of the visits to Milne Bay, ENBP and Madang are due to ‘the increase in cruise ships and tourism activities in these provinces.’

More holiday visitors are starting to come to Papua New Guinea. Credit: David Kirkland

Air arrivals grew 12 per cent (up from four per cent growth in 2018) to 25,199. Cruise arrivals slid six per cent.

The report attributes the ‘healthy growth in holiday arrivals’ to the TPA working in ‘partnership with the tourism industry players and key stakeholders’ and more awareness and product developments’ in the provinces.

The document predicts that the number of business travellers will fall this year by 3.5 per cent but that, by 2024, it will be up by 51 per cent.

It predicts that the number of holiday visitors will rise by 11 per cent this year and be up by 58 per cent in 2024.

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