“We are getting there. We will get there. It requires careful planning, training, meaningful government support and private enterprise, including private operators to be involved together.
On top of it all perhaps, it requires an active Bougainville Tourism Association to be in place coordinating interests up front with a combination of foresight and passion for long term success in getting this green and clean industry on the right and firm footing in Bougainville.
“For every promotion and advertorial to attract tourists to our shores we must put even more effort to provide the facilities and services that tourists take for granted when they travel to well travelled and well developed tourist destinations in the region.
Simon Pentanu comes from Pokpok Island where the family has a home and private retreat. The Retreat promotes community participation and involvement of women and youth in the benefits of tourism on the Island. He believes and advocates that “small, rural and local is beautiful” across Bougainville. See his Interim Website
Learning from Papua New Guinea PNGTA
Every region, province, district, locality right down to the communities and villages in PNG has its unique attractions, wonders and mysteries yet to be discovered.
In an age when mass tourism for dollars and cents compete to lure tourists, PNG over the last 40 years has somewhat wisely and in its own laid back way chosen instead, wittingly or otherwise, to go the way of sense and sensibility rather than purely a grab for dollars and cents.
True, every tourist dollar is important. Indeed, for some small Island states it is both the breadbasket and the mainstay of their economy contributing sizeably to their annual GNP.
For PNG the preservation of its many traditions and cultures, many of them unique and surviving the onslaught of so called modern civilisation, has also occupied the minds and careful planning and consideration of those tasked with developing tourism policies and programs in PNGTA. This is admirable considering that the impact of tourism has its downsides as well. For every tribe, clan or sub-clan their culture is their identity in dance, drama, chants, prose and the plumage and attire they don on very special occasions. It counts for a lot more than monetary gains.
Bougainville, which until 2010 was one of the twenty provinces of PNG, was also very much a part of PNG tourism planning that encompassed the more readily accessible provinces and areas. Bougainville, or North Solomons Province as it was known then, had a fully fledged and very well run tourism association that promoted sight-seeing, trekking, fishing, diving, a small group of motor cross enthusiasts and regional and local cultural shows across north, central and south Bougainville. Most of its promotional activities, like much of the business and commerce at the time, was centred in central Bougainville where the Panguna copper mine was also situated.
Picture below French tourists at Uruna Bay Retreat on Pokpok Island 2015.
While the mine was then the prime catalyst and lure for Bougainville’s development from out of the backwaters as a distant place from Port Moresby, its beauty as a tourist destination was obvious as early back as 247 years ago. This was when on 04 July 1768 the French explorer Capitaine’ Louis de Bougainville made landfall and noted in his journal then the existence of mountains of ‘prodigious’ heights. The Frenchman was so taken by its beauty he named the unchartered Island “Bougainville” in honour of his family.
Flash back at tourism in North Solomons Province
Prior to the crisis in the days of the NSP the Bougainville had a very active tourism association, the North Solomons Province Tourism Association (NSPTA). The Association was active in promoting tourism through brochures, post cards, promoting local artefacts and handcrafts, cultural events, walking, trekking, fishing, diving and pointing out the history and historical sites, relics and remnants of WW1 and WW2 on Bougainville. The Association provided a lot of interesting insights and reading as its contribution to what else Bougainville offered other than the huge copper mine that was the humongous money earner for the country up until the mined was shut in late 1989.
The Spanish prophetically named these isles after King Solomon, thinking they had discovered his gold mines. And truly in the heart of her bosom , Bougainville cradled one of the largest copper mines in the world [from NSPTA “Welcome to Bougainville” promotional brochure].
NSPTA published and distributed “Welcome to Bougainville” brochures promoting the Island that was here waiting to truly entertain you with her rich culture, her beautiful tropical environs, and her people. The awe inspiring beauty that captivated French Captain de Bougainville, well over two hundred years ago, has truly remained to this day. [from NSPTA].
Bougainville at its height in tourism then offered Arovo Island Resort as its jewel in its hospitality crown, a joint and cooperative effort of business houses, Bougainville Development Corporation and the NSPTA. Arovo provided good island accommodation, day visits, diving and dive shops and game fishing competitions to look forward to. Other hotel accommodation included the Davara Hotel at Toniva and Kieta Hotel.
The expatriate population around mining and from subcontract companies and independent investors provided a good source of “tourist” revenue venturing south as far as Buin and north as far as Buka to explore the surfs, sunken wrecks, caves and sink holes and just plain sailing on the weekend out as far as the borders with the Solomon Islands from sailing clubat Loloho and the Yacht Club in Kieta.
Today – A Slow but Sure Start
Like any recovery after any conflict anywhere, resurrecting tourism in Bougainville to compete in the country and in the Pacific region is going to take many years. How we start and where we start is going to determine how we perform and where we might end up. There is a tremendous lot we can learn from PNGTA.
For every promotion and advertorial to attract tourists to our shores we must put even more effort to provide the facilities and services that tourists take for granted when they travel to well travelled and well developed tourist destinations in the region.
There is a lot we can learn from Fiji but we do not have to be like Fiji. There is certainly a lot too we can learn from the former French and British condominium of New Hebrides, now Vanuatu, but we do not have to cause ourselves any pandemonium by rushing and expecting instant results. The neighbouring Solomon Islands might provide a good lead for us in terms of learning how they are coping. But certainly, having said all that, there is a lot we can learn about eco tourism and community tourism that can be embedded with social development as a direct benefit from tourism to local communities. Strengthening connections and opening good lines of communications with PNGTA, with the imprimatur from ABG and involvement with and by local operators will see many benefits.
Airfares to PNG and into Bougainville is a killer for tourists. So too is the price of accommodation. There is no doubt they are both enormous deterrents to travel and stay in and around PNG and in Bougainville. Almost all decent accommodation in Bougainville is more expensive than comparable accommodation anyway else. This is not something we can shrug our shoulders and casually pass over or ignore.
We are getting there. We will get there. It requires careful planning, training, meaningful government support and private enterprise, including private operators to be involved together. On top of it all perhaps, it requires an active Bougainville Tourism Association to be in place coordinating interests up front with a combination of foresight and passion for long term success in getting this green and clean industry on the right and firm footing in Bougainville.
It will take a long time before we start talking about millions in tourist dollars. It will not happen without putting any effort in planning and providing the facilities and services that tourists expect. We cannot go out selling Bougainville as a mecca for surfer’s, trekkers, divers, game fishers, beachcombers, eco-green visits, etc without providing adequate facilities and services on the ground. Our increasing attendance at world tourism expos and international tourism meetings should open our eyes to appreciate we have a lot to do on the ground.