Travel plans: Papua New Guinea tourism sector looks to the future


Tourism has been one of the biggest hit sectors in the current COVID-19 pandemic, taking a global hit worth over $460 billion across the world. The 2020 National Tourism Industry Forum, held in Port Moresby recently, aimed to help the troubled local industry.

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

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a sledgehammer to the tourism industry across the world, and PNG has not escaped unscathed. The tourism industry in Papua New Guinea has had a frustrating 2020 that has seen hotels close, restaurants on restricted trading and famous attractions such as the Kokoda Trail with no foot traffic.

In fact, 90.7 per cent of tourist bookings were cancelled this year, while more than 1000 people lost their jobs. The industry came together earlier this month at the PNG Tourism Industry Association Forum to talk about this dire situation, and it was fair to say that tensions were high.

Addressing the group, Walter Schnaubelt, Minister for Culture, Tourism and National Museum, urged a frustrated industry to ‘lay down our guns and work together’.

‘The international business arrivals in the first nine months of 2020 dropped by 71 per cent,’ Schnaubelt said in his keynote address. ‘This is about 8500 international arrivals to the country this year compared to over 120,000 we saw in the same period in 2019. Arrivals from our major source markets around the world have seen double-digit drops in the same period. We relied heavily on international visitor arrivals to bring in much-needed foreign currency to boost our economy.’

The Minister said he understands there are currently a lot of issues at play in tourism and ‘we need a working team, or committee, to support the Tourism Promotion Agency’. Schnaubelt also outlined a number of key tourism initiatives:

  • Appointing a tourism representative to National Airports Corporation (NAC) Board.
  • Using the APEC facility to host functions.
  • The renovation of cultural institutions in the provinces.
  • Reviewing the Kokoda Trail arrangements.

Also speaking at the event, Eric Mossman, CEO of PNG Tourism Promotion Agency (TPA), said that they planned to work with partners like Air Niugini to grow local tourism ‘Our focus right now is domestic tourism and the focus of the TPA will be looking at the potential of the domestic tourism industry and how we can drive it,’ Mossman said.

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‘The areas of priority going forward is fixing PNG’s international image, expanding the tourism offerings and to increase compliance and show cultural and environmental sustainability.’

Mossman also added that the industry had some issues before COVID hit PNG shores.

‘There is the perception of a lack of safety, high cost of travel and high price-value relationships, a limited number of high-quality visitor experiences and a lack of community integration and benefits,’ Mossman added. ‘The areas of priority going forward [are]: fixing PNG’s international image, expanding the tourism offerings and to increase compliance and show cultural and environmental sustainability.’

In a sometimes combative Q&A session one attendee said the reality of tourism in PNG right now is ‘empty rooms and empty flights’. It was claimed that the industry ‘would not return to 2019 figures for another three or four years’.

Keeping up appearances

At the same time as the 2020 Forum, Travel Weekly reports that the TPA took a collection of Australian travel agents on a private catamaran in Cairns to remind them what a great destination PNG can be and that it is just a short 1.5 hour flight from the northern Queensland city.

The group was hosted by Holly Marshall from PNGTPA, along with Andrew Bowes from PNG Holidays, Nina Joost from Dive Adventures, Konrad Borowski from No Limit Adventures, and Bettina Schmidberger from Diversion Dive.


  1. Joe Strathern says

    Addressing Lawlessness is critical. Tourists know there is some risk wherever they go but the perception (not of the geography but safety) they have of PNG is quite bad compared to other locations. Even domestic tourists are looking over their shoulders in places like POM or Madang, not to mention the Highlands. Can we look at this very challenging issue and start addressing it.
    This place is a tourism giant waiting to happen.

    We have the laws, rules, operating procedures etc but we need good people implementing them. I keep coming back to the moral development of our people. Start by addressing it indirectly in this way. Our public Service machinery including the constabulary need discipling (not disciplining but discipling) and invest in the crooks from each community, pick them out and pay for their tuition to YWAM DTS. Send 100 each year to YWAM DTS. It will cost the government roughly K400,000.00 per 100 personnel per year.

    You sensism man na bai yu lukim ples tu bai senis.

  2. Travel Agents on this trip were disappointed that not much was said about PNG.

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