There is good news - even from PNG

FINDING good news about Papua New Guinea in the Australian media is a near impossibility these days. By Brian Gomez

Understandably, there is a fair bit of adverse news about crime and corruption coming out of that country but, as in most places in the world, there is also considerable good news.

One clear reason for the constant barrage of bad news is the perceptible efforts of the Australian Government to denigrate Papua New Guinea, led by the softly spoken words of the redoubtable Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

Although there are possibly more than 7000 Australians living and working in Papua New Guinea, the number of tourists visiting the country is literally a drop in the ocean.

On any given day, there would be 700 or more Australians in Bali. With some luck that might be the number that visits PNG in a month.

Nevertheless, Downer's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade seems to take great delight in regularly warning Australian tourists about the dangers of travelling to PNG.

Such a warning has just come out because of the ongoing election campaign and the ever-present threat of violence.

But one has to wonder: When was the last time a tourist was killed in PNG, never mind whether from Australia or anywhere else?

The few Australian tourists that do visit the country go there after very careful thought because for a start, they can certainly have a much cheaper holiday in Bali or Malaysia.

These tourists rarely get into any major trouble, but the DFAT warnings are just part of the Australian Government's mean-spirited way of helping one of its closest neighbours.

PNG is desperately trying to promote tourism as one of the legs of a broader-based economic recovery and gains are being made in spite of the Australian Government's travel warnings which, this time around, have been picked up and broadcast by a host of other governments.

Part of the reason for the pick up in tourism is the increased level of competition in the aviation sector even though the competition against the government-owned Air Niugini and its code-share partner, Qantas, is coming from a private PNG-based competitor, Airlines of PNG.

But the competition has been enough to generate a range of cheaper air fares between Australia and PNG. If a lift in tourism hasn't already occurred it is certainly coming. Cruise ships are returning to the area and 'adventure' and other special packages are gaining favour with overseas travellers.

PNG's world-class resorts that promote scuba diving among their activities from bases in Madang, Kimbe, Alotau and elsewhere get a steady flow of American and Japanese tourists.

Even domestic tourism is taking off with signature events such as national boat festivals, surfing carnivals, iron man contests and the roughly 20-hour race across the famed Kokoda Track that attracts competitors from Australia.

Sydneysider Damon Goerke, who vowed to return for this year's race, described his experience in PNG Yearbook 2007:

"I was totally blown away by the reception I received at the finish and even though I had been running all day and it was four in the morning, I did not feel like sleeping and was on such a high I was happy to chat with everyone there.

"I have done quite a few long-distance mountain runs and Kokoda is the toughest I've done. There are lots of longer events such as the seven-day Marathon des Sables across the Sahara desert, which may be tougher just by virtue of their length, but km for km, Kokoda must be hard to match."

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