Tourism potential in Kokopo and Rabaul ‘huge’ – if infrastructure improves


Tourism operators have welcomed the government’s plan to develop Kokopo and Rabaul in East New Britain Province as the country’s tourism hub. But they warn poor infrastructure and the country’s bad image overseas could prevent PNG reaping the benefits of ‘huge’ tourism potential.

Kokopo: Courtesy -

Kokopo: Courtesy –

The O’Neill Government has identified four regions of PNG for development as special zones: Port Moresby as a commercial and administrative centre;  Lae for manufacturing and industry; Mt Hagen will become the agricultural city and East New Britain will be the tourism centre.

Local tourism operators say they have ‘yearned for’ this for years.

‘Kokopo is the logical place as the hub,’ says Nick Lyons, President of the East New Britain Chamber of Commerce.

‘We feel Kokopo and the rest of New Britain, New Ireland, and Bougainville can provide more than enough variety in tourism, products and experiences to attract people.’

It’s a viewed shared by Wayne Dorgan, Managing Director, Pacific MMI Insurance: ‘Most visitors to ENB can feel the difference in the air as soon as they land at Tokua. The pace of life is very different’.

About Rabaul

Location: East New Britain province, NE PNG

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Population: 17,855 (2001 est)

Main business sector: Tourism

Tourism attractions: War cemeteries and museums, Volcano Observatory, diving, festivals, cultural activities

Primary produce: Copra

Little data

No figures are easily accessible on either the number of current arrivals, or how much money tourism brings to the province. Lyons says this is one aspect that the tourism industry needs to address.

Rabaul would be a ’great destination hub’, but money must be spent to ‘build worthwhile volume.’

At present, travellers who come to Kokopo/Rabaul include the day-only cruise ships, expat executives looking for a break, or independent travellers, most of them from Australia, Japan, Germany and the USA.

Kokopo Beach Bungalow Resort's Donna Lucker

Kokopo Beach Bungalow Resort’s Donna Lucker

‘And that’s because I think Rabaul has some history and significance with those three countries through the various wars and through the various colonisation periods, says Donna Lucker, Kokopo Beach Bungalow Resort operator.

Lyons adds many Japanese make the pilgrimage to see the graves of the 50,000 Japanese who died in Rabaul alone during World War Two.

‘We get a lot of younger Australians whose parents worked up here when PNG was under Australian rule. Our market at the moment would be about 70% corporate, 30% tourism and I am looking over the next few years to build the tourism side of it.’

Previous tourism strategies

There is also some wariness on whether focusing on a single destination will be productive in lifting tourism numbers. The Somare government had a similar strategy for Madang, but marketing efforts were not maintained and although still popular for conferences, visitor numbers have waned.

Sydney tourism operator Ruth Dicker from Niugini Holidays agrees that Rabaul would be a ’great destination hub’, but money must be spent to ‘build worthwhile volume.’ Thousands was spent to develop tourism in Madang, she says, but it was short-term and the arrivals haven’t continued.

Cruises increasing

But the cruise industry is growing.

‘P&O Cruises will arrive in PNG for its first scheduled cruise in October and it has five more departures to follow,’ according to Stuart Thompson, Aus/NZ Sales & Marketing Manager for the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority.

He says the cruises scheduled so far will bring an additional 10,000 tourists to the area over the next three years.

First impressions

Tourism operators have identified four main infrastructural needs, if the O’Neill government is to achieve its goals. They are: improving the airport and providing visas on arrival, improving roads; improving water and sanitation, and providing consistent and cheap power and communications.

Money must be spent to assure tourists that East New Britain is safe.

‘First impressions are important,’ says Lyons.

‘Generally, if PNG is to appear as a competitive destination, adequate infrastructure and maintenance on an on-going basis—making the place look clean and tidy—is critical.’

All agree the overall image of PNG as a safe destination is a problem and money must be spent to assure tourists that East New Britain is safe. One tourism operator who did not wish to be named cited Vanuatu as a model.

‘They had a civil war there,’ he says, ‘but guests had no idea of the country’s internal strife.’

‘I think it’s changing that perception that will be the factor that actually turns it around for Kokopo and East New Britain,’ says Donna Lucker.

‘ENB has always had a reputation for being a safe place to be and it still is. I mean we get people from Moresby who arrive here and say: “We didn’t know this place existed. You can actually walk up the street. You can walk up to the markets, you can walk up to the shops. You wouldn’t do that in other parts of PNG”’.

Allowing tourists to bypass Port Moresby is the secret, she says.

‘That certainly seems to be the thinking up here and people are looking at it in terms of Indonesia—where you may not go to Jakarta, but Bali is a popular destination. So we need to market ourselves on that basis.’

Until things like cheap airfares, visas on arrival, power, water and communications are fixed, the tourists won’t come.

‘If the visas were issued in Tokua airport, tourists will never go through Port Moresby again,’ agrees Dorgan.

Sydney’s Ruth Dicker says the timing of flights out of Australia is a critical factor.

‘Most Australians visiting Rabaul/Kokopo come from Victoria and New South Wales in their winter. PNG’s peak period runs from April-September, the same as Cairns.’

She says that current timings of the twice-weekly Rabaul/Cairns direct flight does not enable a same day connection to southern ports and, even if it did, the PNG flight cost combined with a peak season Australian domestic fare does not make for an attractive package cost.


Ruth Dicker is also adamant about the need to spend money on advertising, pointing out that this is the most important element in promoting the area. Vietnam, Thailand, Bali are all competitors and they spend up large, she says.

One operator said  until things like cheap airfares, visas on arrival, power, water and communications are fixed, he says, the tourists won’t come. And, he adds, the marketing needs to be done professionally.

‘In the old days,’ says Donna Lucker, ‘Rabaul used to be called the Pearl of the Pacific. I think now Kokopo could now become the playground of the Pacific.’


  1. Yes without reasonable roads, key infrastructure items such as sewage, communication / broadband and transport linkages ENB will struggle. Politicians and many business’s need vision to support the bigger picture with a longer view to make tourism a real money earner for PNG. It took Cairns nearly 40 years to get there so it is longer term.

    ENB has some incredible features, the natural beauty in and around around Kokopo, the Volcano and submarine tunnels and deep harbour at Rabaul, surfing and diving off Kavieng, and the beautiful Duke of York Islands. I have been to most and believe it has tremendous potential.

  2. is it safe to drive all over ENB

  3. Schools students especially boys fighting in Kokopo Market and along the town bus stop are projetjecting a dull image of what the so called,’ENB the land of Peace, Tourism and Educational destintaion.’ Boys please try to make use of the previlleges and opportunities.Thanks so much to the hard working and honnest public servants particularlly those of the divsion of Education. Your skills and knowledge used in helping the upcoming generations are so vital and important. In this regard, Citizens, we must know that, guiding and coaching are difficult to do, it won’t just fixed over night rather it takes miles to get it done. However, attitudes are once own responsibiltiy because we have the rights to live a life, therfore, change now for chances ahead. Would like to also recommended the Kokopo town MP HON. Eremman Jr.ToBainning with your team for taking education as priority by introducing the HUMAN RESOURCE SCHOLARSHIP SCHEME, cause investment is regarded as injection to the economy. Hoping that many of us missed out would benefit from in the coming years.

  4. Austin Edo says

    ENBP has always been known for having very good infrastructure, especially roads. But it seems that for the last 10 years our roads leading from Tokua and down to Vudal have been neglected. I can say that many small contractors which are given contracts to fix these roads do not have the intellectual capacity and machinery to do a good job. The Works Dep’t should be given the primary role of fixing these national roads, while contractors can be awarded contracts for smaller projects. This was the way it was before the 1994 volcanic eruptions and it should be re-introduced.

    Many visitors to the province I know admire the roads linking our communities. But they do not know that it was better before. Wouldn’t it be nice to attain that level again??

  5. LINUS BAI says

    I agreed with much being said about infrustructure here in East New Britain. We will not achieve the dream if infrustructure is ignored.

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