PNG TOURISM LOSING MELANESIAN DISCOVERER

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (July 24, 2001 - Post-Courier/PINA Nius Online)---The popular cruise vessel MV Melanesian Discoverer is about to leave Papua New Guinea shores -- never to return.

Sir Peter Barter, Chairman of Melanesian Tourist Services, which owns the vessel, announced that the ship had been sold to a European company.

Sir Peter said the ship would not leave until mid-October so it could complete all contractual obligations.

Sir Peter said for a number of years it had become increasingly difficult to attract a constant volume of tourists due largely to the perception that PNG is a dangerous place to visit.

Said Sir Peter: "This was and still is compounded by adverse ‘Travelers’ Alerts’ issued by foreign government warning their citizens not to come to PNG, constant media bashing that had become endemic, particularly in Australia, coupled with the increasing costs of operating such a large, sophisticated vessel in PNG waters.

"The recent confrontation by the Defense Force and more recently by the UPNG students had created a lot of adverse publicity and while we in PNG understand that these problems are always resolved in the ‘Melanesian way’ this is not so well understood internationally.

"Another factor was the political interference with the PNG Tourist Promotion Authority and its inability to understand the complex issues that have plagued the development of tourism in PNG since before Independence."

On a positive note, Sir Peter said the company was investigating the replacement of the Melanesian Discoverer with two smaller vessels.

One would operate exclusively on the Sepik River. This vessel would provide accommodation for 24 guests in 12 twin/double cabins and be based in Madang.

The vessel will have at a top speed of 25 knots, enabling it to travel between Madang and the Sepik River in just four hours yet cruise at low speeds while on the river.

The other would be a stabilized seagoing vessel that would be available for VIP charter and also based in Madang.

This ship would serve divers and fishermen as well as people wanting to learn more about PNG and its culture.

But the final decision will be made only if PNG can improve the current crime situation and Travelers’ Alerts are less severe, as the cost of marketing against such warnings nullifies PNG’s effort to a large extent.

On another positive note, Air Niugini’s direct service between Sydney and Port Moresby has produced encouraging results, said Sir Peter.

"For the first time in more than a decade there has been an increase in Australian holiday makers to PNG and more encouraging is the rate of satisfaction among those who had taken advantage of Air Niugini’s special packages," Sir Peter said.

"Numerous travel writers and journalists have been visiting PNG over the past three months and the articles being published in Australia are beginning to improve the image of PNG as a holiday destination."

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

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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