Interview: Materua Tamarua

How would you describe the lifestyle in PNG for corporate travellers or new residents who have relocated for business purposes?

MATERUA TAMARUA: PNG is a fascinating country for visitors.

Between mid-2019 and mid-2020 business travellers constituted nearly 55% of the total number of tourists. Most arrivals come from Australia, while Asia and Europe make up 30% of inbound travellers. The national education system is provided in English, and it is widely spoken around the country. PNG’s official languages are Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu and English.

Due to its long history and geographic proximity, PNG and Australia share similarities. This is evident in the education system, industry standards, sport and entertainment, and consumer brands. PNG’s national sport is rugby league, and Australian events such as the State of Origin and the Melbourne Cup are very popular. Australia is PNG’s largest trading partner and greatest source of foreign assistance. PNG and other Pacific Island nations have also recently attracted the interest of larger economies in Asia, such as China and Japan.

Still, it is important to be realistic and open minded. One cannot expect the modern comforts of the developed world in a developing country. An outdoor lifestyle is typical of an emerging tropical island nation. Furthermore, limited western consumer brands may pose a challenge. However, those who immerse themselves in PNG’s casual lifestyle, natural beauty and rich culture find it an interesting and rewarding place to live.

Which message should be promoted about PNG to new arrivals and potential visitors?

TAMARUA: PNG is rich in biodiversity and natural resources. It is known as the land of the unexpected. The country is largely untouched and its tourism potential is substantial. It offers fishing, diving and many other outdoor adventures. It is also popular with heritage hunters for its wartime relics and Second World War sites. The Kokoda trail is a popular destination for many visitors. In addition, PNG’s diverse cultures and colourful traditional events offer many options for cultural enthusiasts. Festivals are held around the country throughout the year. It is also very linguistically diverse, with over 800 languages. The average Papua New Guinean speaks five languages.

What are the top challenges that foreign business people can expect to face in PNG, and might they be effectively addressed?

TAMARUA: PNG faces a number of challenges in the form of poor infrastructure, and law and order limitations. However, to address the ongoing electricity challenges, work has begun on the National Electrification Programme, which aims to electrify 70% of households by 2030. The programme has the support of governments in Australia, the US, New Zealand and Japan. Only 13% of PNG is connected to the grid. In addition, the Coral Sea Cable System is an Australia-driven, PNG-supported initiative that is set to bring better internet connectivity to PNG and Solomon Islands.

In recent years PNG has tried to boost its international profile – and reduce perception problems – by hosting a number of high-profile events, including the APEC Leaders’ Summit in 2018. The positive coverage received from these successful events prompted renewed interest in the country and brought a sense of optimism. PNG aims to shift its economy away from dependence on mining and petroleum, to focus more closely on tourism and agriculture. The government sees the active participation of micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises as an important part of engaging the informal sector in driving the economy forwards. This approach resonates with the growing sentiment for broader local participation across industries.

Moreover, PNG has managed the Covid-19 pandemic very well. It is one of a few countries that contained the spread of the virus within its borders. This is a remarkable achievement considering budget constraints.