Tourist numbers mount as Air Niugini shuts down Narita flights

IN THE week that Air Niugini announced it was temporarily shutting down its direct weekly flights to Tokyo’s Narita airport because of mounting losses, authorities noted tourist numbers were continuing to exhibit double digit growth.

The Kokoda Track is almost certainly the biggest single attraction with thousands making the week-long trek across the rugged World War II location, where thousands of Australian and Japanese soldiers lost their lives in a battle of epic proportions.

In the first quarter of this year tourist numbers were up 10% to 27,558, up 15.3% to 28,964 in the second quarter and up 5.1% in July and August, compared to same periods last year.

The 30-40% growth rate of the previous couple of years obviously cannot be sustained.

Already accommodation in Port Moresby is bursting at the seams and hotel room rates have been ratcheted upwards.

Further increases are likely in 2009 before a flood of hotel rooms from new projects become available in the next 2-3 years.

The Kokoda Track has been a standout success - there were an estimated 5000 Australian trekkers who did the exhausting hike last year.

Media reports this year suggested there were 1500 just in the week before Anzac Day.

It seems word about the arduous and challenging nature of this hike over 5-7 days is spreading far and wide.

According to a report in the National on Wednesday, the latest group of hikers will consist of 15 mostly middle-aged women from Finland, who run their own supermarkets.

Besides walking the track, the group intends to spend some time at a diving resort, visit some eco-tourism sites and sample some of the country's cultural dances and performances.

The group leader, Jonna Olsio, was quoted by the newspaper as saying that on their return to Finland the group would probably sell PNG and bring more tourists to this country.

The PNG government and the private sector meanwhile have much work on their hands to fix a variety of bottlenecks.

Handsome sums of money are being spent by the government on various infrastructure and road projects via a number of supplementary budgets generated from windfall resources revenue.

The rising levels of competition in various spheres are also helping to bring down costs.

After enjoying a virtual monopoly the national airline, Air Niugini, is also gearing up to face severe competition from Virgin Blue (in conjunction with newly listed Airlines of PNG) on the Port Moresby to Brisbane route.

Already one-way fares of K499, inclusive of taxes, are being advertised for the start up of operations in two months time.

With the onset of serious airline competition, one can only hope domestic services would also show an improvement not just in pricing but also in terms of reliability and frequency of flights to key destinations.


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