Maxine Nadile is an entrepreneur – and unusual. She’s one of two female directors working for a business in provincial Papua New Guinea, PNG. She readily admits neither she nor her business partner, Elaine Bate, were fully prepared for – both had left jobs working for the Milne Bay Provincial Government and were looking for a change. They had no prior experience in running a tour operation business, no capital, no office space, no trained employees and limited knowledge of the cruise tourism industry. But were passionate about the tack ahead. Maxine also undertook a leadership course set up by IFC with the Business Coalition for Women in PNG and is passionate about wanting to see more women in business.
Q. How did you become a director of a tour company in the “provinces” as you call it?
We had no idea of the enormity of the task that lay ahead of us when the opportunity arose to provide tours for Carnival Australia cruise ships, nor the numerous challenges we would face. Even though I had more experience in the tourism industry with 11 years working in the government and private sectors, nothing could fully prepare us for the arrival of 2,000 visitors stepping off a luxury cruise ship onto our humble and relatively undeveloped Alotau port.
What we did have was passion for our province and our people, a strong desire to change the tourism landscape in Milne Bay, a willingness to learn and the sheer determination to succeed.
This was the beginning of a new era in cruise tourism for Milne Bay Province and PNG. The PNG Government had already invested millions in building infrastructure, with jetties and wharves in Milne Bay to cater for the cruise ships, The PNG Tourism Promotion Authority had launched the PNG Cruise Ship Development Strategy and was already implementing the first phase in Milne Bay.
Alotau was strategically placed as the first port of call in PNG, so there was a lot of pressure on us to consistently deliver to the high expectations and high volume of cruise passengers from Australia. Failure was simply not an option.
We literally built our business from scratch with the help of some amazing family, friends and business acquaintances, who believed in us and supported us along the way.
Q. As one of two female directors of the company, how unusual is that in the Papua New Guinean context?
To have two local women who are not related, owning and managing a business together for five years in PNG, particularly in the tourism industry, is unusual.
In terms of leadership roles in PNG, whether it’s within the political, public service, cultural or business arenas, men still dominate. Thankfully, times are changing, as more women are becoming educated and joining the workforce and the general attitudes of people towards women in leadership roles, particularly in the corporate sector, is changing and becoming more acceptable in our country.
In rural Milne Bay however, while women are recognised and culturally acknowledged for their status as custodians of land and customs, the role of leadership in families and communities is still generally led by men. This presents a challenge at times for us as women entrepreneurs particularly in terms of liaising with communities and other industry stakeholders in order to develop our products. It means we need to be more strategic in the manner in which we manage our partnerships and build our business.
It is exciting to see today there are more women in Milne Bay, rising up and becoming business owners. We want to see more women entrepreneurs progressing in business, being innovative and contributing to the development of our province and country.
Q. How important do you see tourism to the PNG economy?
Tourism is very important to the PNG economy because it has the potential to become a driving force in helping develop our country through jobs, infrastructure development, foreign exchange earnings, and cultural and environmental preservation.
In 2015, a study of the impact of cruise tourism in PNG by IFC, the Australian Government & Carnival Australia revealed that AUD$5.9 million (K14.4 million) was brought into the PNG economy by cruise tourism, with an estimated AUD$0.2 million dollars (K0.48 million) in indirect economic benefits.
Cruise tourism has become a catalyst for tourism development in PNG benefitting remote island communities and provincial centres and exposing our people to economic opportunities that have never before existed.
I have seen the huge impact that cruise tourism has had in Alotau and within the province. More than just providing economic benefits, tourism is also empowering people in terms of igniting entrepreneurialism and re-educating them on the importance and value of our cultures as they share their history and stories with tourists.
Q. What’s an example of the huge impact that you are speaking of?
During each cruise ship visit, we co-ordinate about 400 people to deliver the Alotau Cultural Festival, which provides visitors a glimpse of the diversity of PNG’s culture. Featured are cultural performers, arts & crafts sellers, contemporary performers and war canoes from within the bay.
The war canoes come from three different war canoe villages within the mainland bay area, which is home to the Huhu people. Prior to the arrival of Carnival Australia, these war canoes would only be featured during the biggest annual cultural event in Alotau, the National Kenu & Kundu Festival. What they earnt then over three days they can now earn in one day. Now we have 50 to 80 warriors taking part. Given the dramatic increase in cruise ships entering Alotau from seven ships in 2014 to 30 ships in 2017, the war canoe communities have benefitted significantly from cruise tourism.
We’ve now also worked with their cultural leaders to develop their own Huhu War Canoe Festival, which is generating further economic opportunities for about 5000 people within six war canoe villages. More importantly, it is contributing towards cultural revival and re-instilling pride in the Huhu peoples’ identity.
Cruise Tourism has empowered us and enabled us to fund and develop new tourism products for Milne Bay. Five years on and our small team of employees, are still providing shore excursions for Carnival Australia cruise ships and working in partnership with Bob Wood Cruise Group and numerous service providers and local communities. Together we’ve catered for 95 cruise ships and over 70,000 cruise passengers in addition to creating employment and income opportunities for well over 500 people during each cruise ship visit, through our various tour activities.