11 December 2022
By Pauline Riman
There is no denying that the global travel and tourism industry has grown exponentially over the past two decades.
E-commerce and Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) have been the biggest driving force of online travel bookings since 2018. Conversion to payments complete the final step of the sales funnel through online payment gateways, and the results of this successful process can be seen from the statistics of the Global Online Travel Market Report with OTA’s generating over 800 billion US dollars in global travel spend in 2021 [i].
The big names in our Papua New Guinea tourism industry like Air Niugini, the Coral Sea Hotels and Kumul IHG, as well as a handful of tour operators – are making it much easier for travel to and within Papua New Guinea with the incorporation of successful online booking and payment systems.
However, the biggest challenge for the industry is how to get SME tourism businesses to also use and benefit from e-commerce, as well as market and promote their products and services online – especially local accommodation providers and tour operators.
Continuous engagement with the industry has revealed to the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority (PNGTPA) the impediments facing tourism businesses and agencies. Many of the issues shared by the industry are rooted in inadequate utility services in their areas of operation, especially electrical and ICT infrastructure that stifle the digital progress of our tourism sector. This is obvious for tourism businesses and agencies who operate in rural locations, where many of our nation’s well-known tourism attractions are found.
Through the Tourism Sector Development Plan 2022-2026 (TSDP), the PNGTPA is committed to working with relevant government authorities and stakeholders to enhance and improve the tourism sector in Papua New Guinea. One of the key strategies of the TSDP is: “Positioning the Tourism Industry as one of the Strategic Drivers of PNG’s Sustainable Economic Growth, where the Government of PNG and the private sector invest in enabling infrastructure, utilities and security with safety to solidly ground tourism as the mainstay for PNG beyond the minerals boom” [ii].
The TSDP identifies seven (7) subsectors in our national Tourism Sector – two (2) of these subsectors directly reference the development of ICT infrastructure in Papua New Guinea to benefit our tourism industry. These two subsectors are the: Provider & Supplier Subsector and the Critical Enablers Subsector.
Key stakeholders the PNGTPA will be partnering with to implement projects focused on improving our tourism industry’s e-commerce and ICT experience are the Department of Information Communication Technology (DICT) and its support agency NICTA, as well as national and corporate financial institutions like the Bank of Papua New Guinea, BSP Limited, Kina Bank and others.
Digital transformation is high on the PNG Government’s agenda, and with the creation of the Digital Government Act (2022), spearheaded by the DICT and NICTA, the journey to improving ICT in Papua New Guinea has become somewhat smoother. Albeit the focus of the Act predominantly serves the digital transformation of government agencies, the PNGTPA identifies provincial tourism offices, bureaus and authorities as beneficiaries of the Act, and therefore key agents in tourism product development, as a result supporting their digital transformation is a necessary measure. Provincial tourism agencies require tourism product databases that will feed the planned national database – of which the PNGTPA will have access to better serve and guide its mandate of marketing and promoting PNG as a desirable travel destination.
Digitalization of tourism in PNG is a necessary state the PNGTPA is striving to achieve for the industry it serves and can only be realized through a holistic approach. The digitalization process has already begun in PNG, although extremely limited to the bigger players in the tourism sector, the PNGTPA is forging a way forward to strengthen and enable the nation’s tourism subsectors, especially local tourism SME’s and provincial tourism offices. The PNG tourism industry is ready for digitalization, but it needs a coordinated effort led by the PNGTPA and its partners to be fully realized.