Jenny proves hard work, determination pays off


JENNY Gonapa had no office when she started her business in 2009 – just a laptop, an idea and determination.
Today, her business, PNG Highlands Tours, is regarded as a reliable tourism operator, an achievement obtained through her commitment to learning and hard work.
Her journey as an entrepreneur started in 2001 when she was selected to undertake an Australian government-supported scholarship – a business management diploma course through Tafe Queensland.
After she graduated and returned home, Jenny worked with a tour operator in Goroka.
With the encouragement of her brother, who also worked for a tour operator, she started PNG Highlands Tours.
She and her husband went to overseas travel expos, promoting the business to attract tourists.
“I participated in a lot of travel shows such as our Lukim PNG Nau Expo, the South Pacific Tourism Exchange in Auckland, the Birding Fair in London and even the world’s leading travel show – the ITB in Berlin,” she said.
“It cost me and my husband so much time, effort and money, and I had not receive any positive feedback for my tours.”
Jenny was about to give up when she got a call from a friend, Alice Kuaniningi, the then marketing manager for the PNG Tourism Authority who was assisting tour operators in attending expos and roadshows.
The first group of tourists signed up for packages in 2012.
They were American and European retirees, a demographic that has remained a key market.
With the business growing steadily, Jenny invested in land in Goroka where she built an office and diversified into other operations, including a bottle shop, food bar and grocery store.
PNG Highlands Tours has five permanent staff in Goroka and agents in Port Moresby, Rabaul, Kavieng, Mt Hagen, Tari, Mt Bosavi, Karamui, Telefomin, Madang, Simbai, East Sepik, Milne Bay and Tufi. In 2019, Jenny took part in the PNG-Australia Partnership’s Laikim Sister project, which strengthened grassroots business connections between Papua New Guinean and Indigenous Australian women.
“I learnt a lot from my sisters from Australia when they came up last year,” she said.
“I can say that this was the best network and exchange programme to have been part of.”
Flights stopped when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
Tours were cancelled and businesses ground to a halt.
For Jenny, the connections built through Laikim Sister proved useful as she adapted her business to export handicrafts and cultural items.
Times are challenging, but Jenny has the mindset of an innovator and is focused on the opportunities and keeps moving forward.

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