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By Priscilla Raepom

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (January 1, 1999 -- The Independent)---Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Kala Swokin has described 1998 as a good year for tourism with the successful implementation of a number of promotional and training activities. However, he also said that there are areas which hinder the development of tourism.

"While we have recorded an increase in tourism this year and last year, there are some impediments to tourism growth. These are:

Mr. Swokin said tourism in Papua New Guinea is in its budding stage with a potential of contributing to the country’s economy. He said the increased budget allocation by the government for 1999 is a positive indication that the industry is now seen as a lucrative one that will bring development to rural areas, provide an equal share of generated revenue and create employment.

Revenue generator The tourism industry in the last two years has generated more than K 200 million (US$ 96 million) to the national economy and last year alone more than K 110 million (US$ 52.8 million) in foreign exchange earnings.

Employment creator Currently tourism employs more than 6,000 employees and Tourism Promotion Authority (TPA) is running a number of tourism programs to prepare people in the rural and urban areas who intend to participate in the industry.

Sustainable development TPA’s Paradise Live campaign does not only promote tourism in the country but also aims at encouraging Papua New Guineans to be owners of this sustainable industry. A major development for the industry has being the allocation of national scholarship placings for 25 tourism students who will be attending the Divine Word University in Madang next year.

Tourism training at rural level TPA this year has been targeting its training programs to the rural communities of the country to teach the basics of driving a competitive tourist product. Training plays an important part in tourism which is mainly a service oriented industry and delivering training to the rural areas is a first step in providing expertise know-how on promoting the industry.

PROMOTER - TOURISM PROMOTION AUTHORITY According to Tourism Promotion Authority (TPA) chief executive Kevin Byrne TPA as a promoter of the industry was able to complete or implement major projects in the industry despite the difficult economic and social climate.

"We are satisfied that this (government policies on tourism) has being achieved in the highest degree and will continue to implement our program into the new year," Mr. Byrne said.

Projects In March 1998 a National tourism forum "Tourism at the Crossword" was held in the light of political, economical and social obstacles affecting the aggressive growth of tourism industry in Papua New Guinea. The meeting resolved five major proposals to address the gradual growth of the industry which are to:

Developments In June TPA took over Air Niugini's overseas sales offices in Los Angeles and Frankfurt which are currently functioning as general sales agents and marketing points for TPA to the European and American markets.

Domestic campaign

Overseas campaign TPA representatives attended travel expositions and trade tourism fairs in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Tokyo and London which are the main focus of our tourist arrivals.

Research A visitor satisfaction survey by TPA aimed at grading services offered by the industry. Opinions were gauged on industry operators, tourism infrastructure and general overview of PNG as a tourist and business center in the Pacific region.

Future objectives TPA’s main objective for 1999 will be to implement plans and work programs in the media and public relations, research and statistics, policy development and training.

"From the small operators to the most established ones, it is our intention to spread our development programs equally to meet and suit all sectors of the tourism industry and how best we achieve this objective will like every other year depend heavily on government funding and cohesive working relationship from within the industry," said Mr. Byrne.

SERVICE PROVIDER - MELANESIAN TOURIST SERVICES Melanesian Tourist Services’ owner Peter Barter said although the industry in Papua New Guinea continues to survive, problems hamper its gradual progress.

Mr. Batter said such problems as publicizing ‘Travellers Alerts’ by foreign missions of perceived danger to visitors portrays an inaccurate impression that there is danger in all parts of the country. He said this makes it difficult for service providers to down play such dangers particularly when in some areas of the country there is known danger. However, Melanesian has tried to overcome this problem by inviting foreign ambassadors and high commissioners to travel on the Melanesian Discoverer so that they can experience for themselves the ‘real’ PNG.

"I am pleased to say that every foreign diplomat that traveled aboard the Melanesian Discoverer, or stayed at the Madang Resort or Malagan Lodge, now realize this and we hope that they will produce less sensational ‘Travellers Alerts’ in the future," he said.

Mr. Batter suggested that the government should review visa fees and enable easy access for journalists, film producers, tour operators, agents and other people who can improve PNG’s tarnished image to a viable travel destination.

"The difficulties faced are constant. First of all there is an overall misunderstanding of tourism in PNG.

"The facts are that PNG operators must begin to understand the role played by all segments of the industry," he said.

Mr. Batter said there was a need to provide proper and truthful information to the local people wanting to become involved in the tourism industry.

For additional reports from The Independent, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Independent (Papua New Guinea).

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