The Tourism Potential in Papua New Guinea

Melpa Women of Western Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea. © PNGTPA 


Papua New Guinea’s tourism slogan, ‘a million different journeys’, lights a spark in an intrepid traveler’s imagination. He searches to find more information. Photographs on social media channels transport him to a land where brightly painted warriors dance to the sound of beating drums. The scenes speak of a people keeping alive elaborate rituals that accompany deaths, marriages, feasts and initiation rites. With 7,000 distinct cultural groups speaking some 800 local languages – about a third of the world’s indigenous tongues – Papua New Guinea is a rich offering. Clicking further, an online travel documentary shows the raw untouched beauty of the land which possesses a mysterious, spiritual underbelly, connecting travelers to a different place and time. He’s hooked and starts planning his trip of a lifetime.

It’s visitors like this one, who plan trips to experience authentic cultures, that IFC research, supported by the governments of Australia and New Zealand, into tourism demand show are valuable targets for Papua New Guinea’s tourism industry.

Globally, the cultural tourism market is valued at $453 billion dollars with travelers taking 277 million trips in 2016. While around 70 percent of all holiday visitors participate in cultural activities during their trips to Papua New Guinea, only about half of those come primarily for a cultural experience. In 2016, this translated to about 10,000 genuine niche market cultural tourists. With cultural tourism forecast to grow at around 10 percent each year over the next decade, there is huge potential for Papua New Guinea to develop cultural tourism.

While cultural tourism is one strand that could be developed further, research shows Papua New Guinea needs to increase its numbers of holiday tourists overall.  Data from an IFC led International Visitor Survey (IVS) shows that Papua New Guinea today has a small pool of holiday visitors, compared to its nearby neighbors and globally.  Tourists made up around 25 percent of about 86,000 arrivals in 2017. By comparison, the global average is 53 percent, and holiday arrivals make up 75 percent of all arrivals in regional destinations, Fiji and Vanuatu, and around 36 percent in similar global destinations like Namibia.

Papua New Guinea also relies heavily on one close-by market: Australians make up 53 percent of all holiday arrivals. However, this has a limited growth potential as Australia makes up about one percent of the global holiday market.

IFC’s findings show that holiday tourists to Papua New Guinea can be grown significantly over the next ten years by focusing on niche markets to deliver high-spending tourists, aligned with the country’s natural, historical and cultural tourism assets.

Cultural tourism, soft adventure, birdwatching, diving and historical tourism are identified by the research as the greatest potential areas for growth in Papua New Guinea. Developing niche market tourism has the potential to attract an extra 40,000 holiday arrivals annually to Papua New Guinea by 2026.

The research show with the right investments in infrastructure, capacity building, product development and marketing and tackling regulatory issues, PNG could receive an extra $117 million per year to in niche market tourism revenues and position itself as a globally recognized tourism destination.

Published in April 2018.