THE government has declared East New Britain a tourism hub and allocated funds in the budget to develop the sector in the province. Business reporter MARK HAIHUIE discussed it with ENB Tourism Authority chief executive GARD RENSON.
HAIHUIE: Please give a brief overview of the authority and its role?
RENSON: The East New Britain Tourism Authority was established by the provincial government in early 2016. Before that, it was a bureau under the Commerce and Trade division. The Authority was set up to take on the Government’s tourism hub declaration of ENB, especially Kokopo, which is no doubt the fastest growing town apart from and outside Port Moresby. Under the ENB provincial development plan 2011-2021, the role of the ENB Tourism Authority is to facilitate the growth and development of tourism in the province with the ultimate goal of ensuring that local communities participate meaningfully in the industry to be self-sustained, self-reliant and self-sufficient in their rural settings. One of the key roles of the authority is to promote and support the development of tourism thereby setting the basis for community participation and to promote and market the province as a competitive tourism destination in the international tourism market.
HAIHUIE: The government has declared East New Britain as one of the main hubs for tourism in the country. In what ways can the province be developed to allow for this in terms of infrastructure?
RENSON: Following the tourism hub declaration, the first step was to establish a Tourism Authority office followed by the formulation of a Tourism Master Plan and ENB Tourism Authority Act. These are Institutional and Corporate Governance issues that the ENB Tourism Board in line with the provincial government set out to put in place to empower the Provincial Tourism Authority and institutionalise it to strategically progress the government’s tourism hub policies. The tourism board of directors led by chairman Douglas Pidi identified a Cluster Tourism Development Plan which is the main crust of developing tourism in the province. The plan is factored in the draft ENB Tourism Master Plan and is a strategic approach to developing tourism in identified key strategic areas of the province with potential for tourism development. The Cluster Tourism Development Plan addresses a whole range of tourism development initiatives including infrastructure and other tourism-related and supporting service infrastructures.
HAIHUIE: How important is the tourism sector to the local economy and the lives of people in the province?
RENSON: ENB embraces tourism as an important sector that can grow and strengthen its economy and as a sector that can support the province’s remote communities where lack of cash is a harsh reality. The Tourism Cluster Development Plan is meant to address the growth and development of the tourism industry in the province and to create a value and supply chain to strengthen and boost the local economy through partnership participation by locals in the tourism sector.
HAIHUIE: Tourism and Small to Medium Enterprises are policy priorities of the government. What are your views on this two sectors merging to attain their respective goals in East New Britain?
RENSON: The ENB Tourism Authority envisaged to develop tourism into a dynamic economic sector from within through developing “tourism clusters” in the province. The tourism cluster development concept will address the SME development concept through partnership with tourism products owners, site owners and attractions which are interconnected. The ultimate aim is to spread the growth and development of tourism in East New Britain in an equal benefit-sharing process that will ultimately address the Government’s SME policies. In relations to how tourism fits into the SME programmes, the ENB Tourism Cluster Development Plan focuses on the “value and supply chain” which comprises all the goods and services which go into the delivery of tourism products to consumers. It includes all suppliers of goods and services whether or not they are directly contracted by tour operators or by their agents (including ground handlers) or suppliers such as accommodation providers. The tourism supply chain involve many components. It is not just accommodation, transport and tours but also bars restaurants, handicraft, food production, waste disposal and infrastructures which support the tourism industry. The ENBPG strongly support the government’s SME policies through the initiation of a financial arrangement by involving two of its established Micro Finance institutions – the Kokopo Poroman Micro Finance and the Rabaul’s Mataure Micro Finance for the financing of SME project. This programme is a success story and is currently managed under the ENB provincial Commerce and Trade division. Complementing this current arrangement, the ENB tourism sector is working to further boost the SME sector through facilitating avenues specifically under the Tourism Cluster Development Programme whereby a partnership supply chain of activities is created to further strengthen and increase SME participation.
HAIHUIE: Concerns have been raised on how packaged tourism limits the participation of locals in benefiting from those who come into the province. An example would be the cruise ships. What are some ways to address this issue?
RENSON: Package tourism is an internationally recognised process of destination travelling within the global tourism industry. Package tourism involve a range of tourism service providers, for example taxi operators, bus operators, bars and restaurants owners, sites and attractions, art and craft sellers, markets and many more which are packaged with a price tag. The processes although may not be directly seen, it circulates the tourism dollars within a particular destination 20-fold to 30-fold. Package tourism addresses the supply chain scenario where services providers whether directly or indirectly can benefit from tourism. And while it can limit
participation by locals in some way, the opportunities provided especially through cruise tourism is big enough to cater for just about everyone. Tourism is everybody’s business and there is no limit to who should participate in the industry. Tour operators handling cruise passengers usually package and sell products owned by locals. Thus the concerns that locals do not benefit from package tourism is not quite correct because a huge part of the package costs is usually paid to the local owners of tourism product. Other ways to address this issue is for the government to facilitate avenues for local participation in the tourism industry such as developing craft markets in strategic tourism locations. East New Britain and the World Bank are currently working on a plan to develop a craft market where handcraft sellers and other service providers can use. Complementing the development of a craft market by the World Bank, the ENB Tourism Authority has partnered with locals in holding up-skilling through training programmes for handcraft and art and craft makers to improve their product quality to meet international tourism demands.
HAIHUIE: The majority of tourists who come into the province do so via Port Moresby. Do you think the Tokua airport should be upgraded to receive direct international flights?
RENSON: There are indeed plans in place to upgrade the Tokua Airport to an international airport standard to take on direct flights. ENB has been negotiating with the government and donor development partners to upgrade Tokua into an international airport in light of the tourism hub declaration. While this may be a long shot, indications and after negotiations with government development partners, the province is confident that Tokua will be upgraded to take on direct flights to complement the Government’s declaration of ENB as a major tourism hub. We believe we have the tourism resources, conducive environment, people’s welcoming approach and low level of crime that can boost the growth of tourism in the province. But without the international direct flight to Tokua, we cannot fulfil the tourism hub concept. It is therefore important that Tokua Airport is upgraded to take on international flights.
HAIHUIE: How important is private public partnerships in terms of enhancing tourism in the province and through which initiatives?
RENSON: Tourism is a private sector industry but relies heavily on the government to facilitate it to prosper. The role of the public sector is to ensure bottle-neck impediments are removed to allow for the private sector to develop tourism. This involves appropriate and conducive policy decisions at all government levels that will provide a level-playing field for the private sector to run with the industry.
HAIHUIE: Education is important in providing skilled personnel to operate in the tourism and hospitality sector. Is there need for the establishment of these institutions in the province to cater for this?
RENSON: Education is an important supporting sector of the tourism industry. In ENB, the provincial government recognised that and have put in place strategic approach to empower the provincial education system to play a greater role in partnering with the tourism sector. Examples of this is the formulation and incorporation of a provincial-owned tourism syllabus recently launched and driven by the Provincial Education Division to be implemented in all TVET institutions (vocational training centres) in East New Britain. It is also worth noting that the Provincial Education Division had signed an memorandum of understanding with tourism industry operators in the province to provide avenues where the operators can take on Tourism TVET students in the province to undertake practical experiences. Furthermore, most of our secondary schools in the province are already offering tourism and hospitality as a subject to be incorporated into the syllabus. Negotiations between UNRE and Griffith University in Brisbane are ongoing for a tourism partnership arrangement where both universities run an exchange tourism programme.
This will enable students to undertake tourism degree programmes at UNRE and at Brisbane’s Griffith University.