The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Sept. 17) - An initiative has been publicly discussed in the past few days that would have, we believe, a positive effect upon Papua New Guinea's tourism industry.

The proposal came from the Minister for Culture and Tourism, Nick Kuman, who spoke in Madang on Sunday while attending the Madang Cultural Show.

While noting that PNG needs to spend up to K20 million (US$6 million) each year to effectively compete in the international tourism market, he added that the Government is looking at opening three more international airports.

That is common sense, and good news, and not only from a tourism point of view.

PNG risks becoming something of a closed book to the outside world, because air entry can effectively only be made through Port Moresby.

That is a major negative when it comes to attracting tourists from anywhere other than Australia and New Zealand.

Tourists originating in countries to our north and east -- Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States and Latin America, Japan, Malaysia and the Indian sub-continent for example - must overfly the very attractions they have traveled far to see, disembark in the nation's capital, then make further air connections to their ultimate destinations.

Madang, Wewak and the Sepik, Rabaul and the Islands region, Morobe, the Trobriands, the magnificent lodges such as Karowari and Ambua, and the whole of the Highlands all fall into this category.

Australia boasts at least six international points of air entry, and they are scattered throughout that country.

Any tourist whose intended destination was Sydney or Cairns or Darwin, would think twice if he could only disembark in, say, Perth and then fly thousands of miles further to reach his goal. 

And with international airports comes other infrastructure, and further opportunities for Papua New Guineans to enter the tourism field.

Hotels, lodges and land and sea transport are obvious developments that would stem from an increase in the tourism sector.

Such developments would mean a significant growth in employment across a wide range of service industries.

The international airport proposal will of course cost tens of millions of kina, but when that becomes possible, it should be seen as an investment in the future.

We have only one question about the initiative - the expanded airports are, according to Mr Kuman, slated for Rabaul, Mt Hagen and Alotau.

All three destinations have significant tourism attractions to offer, and would tempt a wide range of tourists.

But the most obvious destination of all, and the very town where Mr Kuman was speaking when he made the announcement, is Madang.

Our leading earner of tourism dollars suffers badly from uncertain airline access, a fact that Mr Kuman and his delegation last weekend will readily confirm.

Investigations we have undertaken over recent weeks suggest that past political infighting was the root cause of delays in establishing an international airport in Madang. Those days have hopefully gone, and Madang's claims in terms of beauty and existing tourism infrastructure, and as a logical base for safaris exploring the Sepik River need no accolades from us. 

We urge the construction of such an airport in Madang as the first priority.

Indeed, Madang has been badly dealt with by Air Niugini, a matter that could be rectified overnight.

The flights linking Mt Hagen with Madang have been scrapped, cutting-off an important tourism link between the Highlands and the Momase region.

Further, it is impossible to travel directly to the islands region from the tourism town. Rabaul is now only accessible via an interminable flight from Madang to Lae, thence Hoskins and finally to Tokua.

A direct flight should be established between Madang and Rabaul. 

It could be made profitable, we believe, by continuing the flight from Rabaul to Kavieng, on to Momote at Manus and back to Madang via Wewak.

Long-time residents will recall the "milk-run" that used to follow much the same route when Ansett ANA and TAA competed for PNG's domestic air traffic.

In our opinion, more tourists could be readily attracted to PNG if more thought was given to internal routing, which could open up tourism opportunities within PNG for both tourists, and our own people.

We commend Mr Kuman's initiative, and hope more international terminals will soon become a reality. 

September 17, 2003

The National:


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