Kimbe Bay in Papua New Guinea’s island of New Britain holds an almost mythical status amongst divers.
The lush and picturesque ecosystem is home to more than 900 species of fish – and more than half the world’s species of hard coral. Under its calm blue waters, unique mountain-like ‘peaks’ of coral are interspersed with World War II wreckage. These are features that draw dedicated divers from around the globe, along with many who are also attracted by the island’s birds and unique rain forests.
Although visitor numbers are increasing, tourism remains a niche market in this difficult-to access part of the country, fewer than 50,000 visitors come to PNG each year for leisure, a figure which has tripled since 2002. Tourism is currently a relatively minor contributor to the overall economy, but the nation is endowed with a great many potential tourist hot-spots, with its unparalleled diving, unique flora and fauna, WWII history, hikes, distinct cultures, and even surfing destinations.
Like the residents in Kimbe, many within the country, where almost 40 percent of people live on less than US$ 1.90 per day, now see the potential for sustainable tourism as a viable means of poverty alleviation without reliance on extractive industries or palm oil plantations.
"This country is very suited to niche market tourism," says Cecileie Catherine Benjamin, who runs Walindi Plantation Resort, which caters mainly to divers and bird-watching tourists.
"The main tourist attraction is the massive biodiversity of birds, plants, fish, reefs and coral. Although large-scale mass tourism may threaten the delicate eco-systems here, and so needs to be controlled and managed, our resort alone provides employment for more than 75 families, as well as livelihoods for more than 50 resource owner groups."
WIN-WIN FOR PEOPLE & NATURE
Benjamin is one of many in New Britain who realise the potential of using tourism as a source of sustainable livelihoods. Another supporter is local activist and community leader Peter Kikele.
His village of Tavolo is enthusiastic about tourism. With funding provided by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), through the United National Development Programme (UNDP)-supported project, Community-based Forest and Coastal Conservation and Resource Management in PNG, they have built a small guesthouse to capitalise on increased visitor numbers.
“The logging companies… take away the forests that villagers depend upon for food and livelihoods - and they promise economic development that never comes. Small scale village tourism schemes, such as guest houses and guided trips offer a sustainable way to both protect the forest and marine resources, as well as generate an income that can bolster local health and education services.”