The time in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea (PNG), the independent Eastern part of the biggest Asian island, can be easily divided in B.A. and A.A., „A“ standing for the APEC Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. In November last year, the APEC Summit helped to put the city onto the global mental map, as according to an PNG official the locals are sick of people thinking we’re in Africa.
For the APEC Summit several roads were build, together with a brand new conference center and a couple of five-star hotels. Even bus stops were erected, mostly with money from either Australia or China. The furniture of the airport check-in and customs facilities, welcoming signs in the city, new aviaries in the Nature Park and any other modern looking urban sight still bears the sign APEC 2018.
The fact that the summit for the first time ended without a final communique and saw harsh exchanges between the US-American Vice President and the Chinese President also reverberates still in PNG, which is the only Southern Pacific country signed up to the Belt and Road Initiatve, an initiative which VP Pence had characterised as an instrument to drown countries in a sea of debt.
At the outskirts of Port Moresby the new roads quickly end, making it necessary to use air crafts for all regional travel within the more than 400,000 sqkm of the country. Even the two biggest cities of PNG, Port Moresby and Lae, are not connected by a road.
Accordingly, as your humble author found out when he visited Port Moresby last week, only hardcore travellers and non-tourists visit the country. Of the about 200,000 per year, half come via cruises or for work, many others are business visitors. From China just 1,500 tourists visited in 2018, with about 10,000 others coming as workers for the many construction projects financed by China or as business visitors.
Last year, after President Xi promoted the idea of more tourists from China visiting the country in the future, plans for a direct air connection between Shanghai and Port Moresby were discussed. In the inflight magazine of the national flag-carrier Air Niugini this connection still exists as a dotted line on the map showing the network of the airline with the explanation „planned route“. However, given that the current demand would fill not more than one airplane per week, it is no surprise that this route has no starting date.
The only direct air connection from China is the seven hour flight from Hong Kong to Port Moresby. Accordingly one result of the China workshop held by PNG Tourism Promotion Authority on October 25th seems to be that it would make sense to concentrate the marketing efforts of PNG on the southern part of China, the Greater Bay Area, which is the home of many experienced and adventurous travellers with interest in outdoor activities from diving and hiking to bird watching and taking part in local tribe festivities.
Preparing for the China Outbound Tourism Market Workshop, I argued in the COTRI Weekly a few weeks ago that it cannot be the goal for PNG to just attract more Chinese visitors, but to attract controlled numbers of those who esteem unique nature and authentic culture and are willing to pay good money for a visit to the last Garden of Eden on earth. After visiting, if only for a few days, it has become very clear that there is actually no other way to move forward as there is no infrastructure existing to support much larger numbers of arrivals from China or any other source market. This will remain true in the forseeable future, even for a PNG now living in A.A. times.
As always, Prof. Arlt and the COTRI Weekly team wish all readers a peaceful and profitable week!