One of Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) pioneer tourism companies has lost millions of PNG Kina due to the current global pandemic.
Melanesian Tourist Services Ltd (MTS) managing director Sir Peter Barter said that MTS has gone through a disaster due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
“Our company is based on cruise ship-handling and tours. We create itineraries for inbound cruise ships and international tourists who want to experience the best of PNG,” he explained.
“From the early months of 2020 until the borders started closing, we have lost a majority of our international bookings and we’ve even had to sell our expeditionary cruise vessel.”
An 81-year-old Australian businessman, former Governor for Madang Province and former Minister of Health and Bougainville Affairs, Sir Peter first arrived in PNG when he was in his early 20’s as a pilot for TalAir, one of PNG’s first airline companies. He later created MTS and has been in the country ever since.
“I’ve seen a lot of change, witnessed the country’s independence, but I’ve never experienced such a drastic downturn in tourism that has now been caused by this pandemic.”
Besides tour operations, MTS is also a pioneer in expeditionary cruise ships, owning and operating various cruise vessels.
Sir Peter said that his company was forced to sell their only expeditionary cruise vessel, due to the pandemic.
“We had over five different groups that were booked to travel on the Kalibobo Spirit during 2020 and many more booked for 2021.”
“It is sad that we have to see the Kalibobo Spirit depart, but these are a few cut-backs that we have to do to keep ourselves afloat during these tough and uncertain times.”
MTS also owns and operates the Madang Resort and its PADI Dive Centre, the Niugini Dive Adventures (NDA), both of which have been hit hard.
The Madang Resort has laid off several staff while NDA sent their Japanese dive instructor back to his country due to the uncertainty.
Like many tourism operators, MTS is now trying to diversify its business, and the company has purchased a day ferry that it hopes will open up domestic tourism.
“We are planning for the coming years, when we hope the pandemic will cease to affect our travel and tourism will return,” Sir Peter said.
In a workshop for the country’s tourism marketing strategy earlier this year, marketing director of PNG’s Tourism Promotion Authority Alice Kuaningi said PNG must rethink its approach in marketing PNG to the world.
“We will closely monitor our marketing strategy to find ways in which we can overcome this pandemic,” she said.
To many tourism operators, monitoring won’t be enough.