IT is a tough time for the tourism industry in the country.The PNG Tourism Promotion Authority (TPA) says that up to 90 per cent of tourist businesses have been affected by the downturn in visitor numbers because of Covid-19 over the past two years
TPA chief executive officer Eric Mossman said since his appointment in November 2020, the onus fell squarely on him as the man to lift tourism out of the Covid-19 downturn but things didn’t work out due to restrictions and international border closures.
Also because of domestic pandemic restrictions the country’s annual cultural shows, which together attract the largest number of local and international tourists annually, have also been cancelled giving no chances to locals to promote their culture through various activities.
However, PNGTPA has encouraged people around the country to tap into domestic tourism as this will involve few international visitors in the country as well as domestic visitors.
One of the country’s tourism hub, East New Britain was among the other provinces to be victims of the world pandemic but locals have come up with innovative ways to keep the sector running during the lockdown period.
PNG Tour Guide, a local tour operator in the province is among other SMEs involved in the tourism sector during the lockdown period providing domestic tourism to locals and few international visitors.
Founder and director Dominic Tulo, 40, is from New Ireland but is living in East New Britain running his local tour guide company with the best services provided because he loves to involve himself in the tourism sector.
Tulo graduated from Divine Word University in Madang in 2002 and got his first job with PNG’s leading in-bound tour operator Trans Niugini Tours in Mt Hagen as a tour guide.
Since 2002 he worked only in the tourism, travel and hospitality industry. He had worked with key tourism organisations like PNGTPA and Air Niugini.
Dominic had some international experience in promoting PNG tourism at the international level during trade shows and also attended tourism fellowship programmes, training and sustainable tourism conferences.
“Why the name ‘PNG Tour Guide’ and not some name specific to ENB where I am currently tour guiding and organising tours? In 2016 I wrote to Bob Bates the owner of Trans Niugini Tours and basically offered him my tour guiding service.
“Without hesitation, he offered me the job so I got to be the tour leader for one of their Mt Hagen Show tour groups annually since August 2016. My last trip was in August 2019, then Covid-19 hit us.
“The Mt Hagen Show tour is usually a 14-day tour that takes you to some of the most remote, unique and authentic places in Papua New Guinea like the Sepik River and Lake Murray in the Western Province. I was the first national tour leader that Trans Niugini Tours had ever hired to lead any of their tour groups in Papua New Guinea. Anyways, this is how I got the name PNG Tour Guide.
“Right now PNG Tour Guide is not a registered business or company. I am just doing freelance tour guiding and arranging tours for those interested.
“PNG Tour Guide at this stage is basically just a name for my Facebook Page that I have used over time to post photos of my travels around PNG and of tours that I have done in Rabaul. I am in the process of registering it,” Tulo said.
Covid-19 has caused havoc to the global tourism industry and in fact the global tourism industry was the first to suffer from Covid-19. The tourism industry will always be the last industry to come back to normal, especially international tourism.
When Covid-19 hit the country back in 2019, most tourism officers and local tour operator companies subsequently went out of business. At that time Tulo was working for a local tour operator in Rabaul and their core business was cruise ship tourism. The cruise ship company went out of business as soon as the Covid-19 hit the country.
“East New Britain is a beautiful and peaceful destination. It is one of the safest destinations in PNG to visit not just for international tourists but also for domestic tourists as well,” Tulo said.
“I noticed nationals visiting ENB occasionally for leisure over the years and while I was still employed full-time, some of my friends who came here for holidays would call me up and ask me to show them around Rabaul or I would offer to.
“I also had expatriate friends who worked with corporate organisations in PNG that I met in my previous employments, call me up when in town to take them around. I have always thought about starting something for myself to tap into the domestic market but I was too comfortable with formal employment.”
When Covid-19 hit the country, Papua New Guineans who like to travel abroad for holidays couldn’t travel and even expatriates working in PNG just couldn’t afford the hectic travel requirements with Covid-19 so domestic travel for leisure purposes started increasing.
According to Tulo, people would just call him up to make arrangements for their tours or be their tour guide. He started posting pictures of his occasional tours with his friends or friends of his friends and later people then started referring guests for tours to him. He was lucky to have a support from friends and family who encouraged him to go for it.
The domestic market is indeed an untapped market. With Tulo’s experience in the industry, his passion for tour guiding and his network, he basically started advertising his tour guide service and other services that he is capable of providing in ENB and simply targeted the domestic market.
“Unlike the international tourist market where you spend lots of money, time and resources to attract, the domestic market is pretty easy. Just do your best as a domestic tour operator or local tour guide, price your products to suit the market, and let the happy customers do the rest. With social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok, promoting your domestic tours or tourism services in the domestic market is pretty easy and cheap.”
Apart from all the above, the one thing that kept Tulo and a few others going strong during the peak of the pandemic until now is the positive mindset and most importantly, passion for the job and to promote the industry.
“In the very short period of time that I have been in rather full operation. I have tried to collaborate with a few like-minded SMEs simply to encourage working together in this time of the pandemic because I am of the strong view that working together or collaboration is the way forward.
“By constantly posting photos of guest experiences during my tours or during tours that I do in partnership with my value partners, I feel that I am indirectly inspiring and giving hope to tourism product owners, small tour operators and tourism as a whole in the province and country.
PNG Tour Guide is currently operating within Kokopo and Rabaul but they have plans for this year to diversify by offering tours to the Bainings and Pomio of East New Britain and also to Tulo’s home province New Ireland.
Tulo is adamant that domestic tourism is a sleeping giant that really needs political will and support from relevant authorities to harness it so small operators can capitalise on it now and even if Covid-19 continues.
Services provided by PNG Tour Guide include: Affordable homestay and hotel accommodation; tours of war relics; volcano climbs; educational tours for schools; hire cars and buses; island tours; dolphin watching; island hoping between ENB and NIP; and harbour cruises.
It is now important to take proactive steps to grow domestic tourism to help Papua New Guinea recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic and survive during these difficult times.