Kokoda Trek Operator Licensing System

The PNG Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) has announced a licensing system for trek operators. This is effectively an accreditation system – something we at Adventure Kokoda have been advocating for many years. We obviously support this initiative and commend the KTA for the work they have done to bring it about.

We also appreciate that many of our trekkers have experienced other world class trekking adventures in Nepal, South America, New Zealand, etc and could provide valuable input into the proposed KTA licensing system which is explained below.


Background and Context

On the 24th September 2009 the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) Management Committee passed a resolution that Commercial Tourism Licences (CTL) will be in force for commercial tourism operations as of the start of the 2010 trekking season.

The purpose of the licences is to provide:

• An enhanced experience for trekkers
• Increased certainty for tour operators
• Compliance with PNG laws and regulations
• Respect for local culture and land owners
• Environmental sustainability
• A safer environment, and
• Fairness to workers

The KTA Management Committee will consult with stakeholders to ensure that the licence system is well designed and promotes beneficial outcomes. The schedule of consultation will include an Issues Paper, Tour Operator Forum in Port Moresby on 20th November 2009, and individual discussions with interested parties.

The CTL is not a revenue raising exercise. A fee will be set as a cost recovery measure.  A CTL is intended to set minimum standards. Higher standards will be promoted through the Code of Conduct and Certification programs.

Key Questions

1. What will be covered in a licence?

It is expected that a CTL will cover the areas listed in the table below.  Additional requirements will be determined through consultation.

Proposed conditions below:


• Carry a First Aid kit (to be determined with assistance from medical authorities)
• Have at least one Tour Guide per party to have a current Senior First Aid Certificate
Checked by KTA Rangers on the Track

• Hold a PNG Company registration, or contract engaging a PNG registered company
• Adhere to relevant PNG laws and regulations
Photocopy of registration or contract with CTL application (no financial or commercial in confidence details required)

• Hold current company public liability insurance
Photocopy of policy

• Carry a tuned VHF radio and/or satellite phone
Checked by KTA Rangers on the Track

Group size
• Clearly advertise maximum group size to prospective clients on company marketing materials
KTA will check websites and promotional material

Trekking Fees
• Must purchase a KTA trekking permit
Checked by KTA Rangers on the Track

Respect for culture and land ownership
• Sabbath (to be negotiated with communities)
• Alcohol
• Modesty
Statement to intent to respect the wishes of the communities

• Ensure maximum pack weight is (suggestion) no more than 25 kgs
• Supply of adequate food, equipment & accommodation to Porters whilst on Track
Checked by KTA Rangers on the Track

KTA reporting
• Medivac reporting [compulsory] (Information to be shared in monthly newsletter – Tour operator will not be identified)
• Track condition reports [optional]

2. How long will a CTL last?

It is expected that a CTL will be issued for three years on a “use it or lose it” basis. If an operator does not use their licence during a calendar year then it will be revoked and a new CTL application required.

3. What will a CTL cost?

The CTL is not a revenue raising exercise and the fee will be set as cost recovery measure. It is estimated that the fee will be between K50 and K100.

4. How will licences be enforced?

Kokoda Track permits will only be issued to Licenced operators. KTA Rangers will continue to check permits along the Track and will weigh porter’s packs. Campsites administrators will record tour operator’s license number/name when any group stays.

The expected compliance regime is as follows:

Penalties for non-compliance:

1. Operating without a license:
a. Financial penalty (subject to revised regulations)
b. Posting of non-compliant operator’s names on the KTA website and KTA notice-boards along the Track

2. Licensed operator not complying with license conditions
a. Serious breach – cancel license
b. First minor breach – official written warning
c. Second minor breach – official second written warning
d. Third minor breach – cancellation of license for at least one year

5. When will the requirements of the Licence be finalized?

Licence conditions will be finalized and communicated to stakeholders before
Christmas 2009. The aim is to have licences in place by 30th March 2009.

6. How will smaller operators be protected?

The CTL is not designed to prevent new operators joining the Industry or to make it impossible for existing operators to continue. Costly requirements such as the need for radios and/or satellite phones can be managed through an operator co-operative and other initiatives that the KTA is willing to explore in consultation with tour operators.

7. What about work permits for non-PNG tour leaders?

Currently there is conflicting advice on what work permits are required for a non-PNG national tour leader. The KTA is currently liaising with relevant government departments to determine whether there is a case for seeking a new work permit category that allows multiple entries over a specific period of time. The KTA will continue to explore this issue and provide feedback as further information becomes

8. How will CTLs be processed?

CTLs will have a simple application form that will be processed in the KTA office. Once a CTL has been granted the licenced operator will be entered into a permit database so permits can be processed quickly and easily.

9. Why not a voluntary system?

The KTA Management Committee believes there is a need for a properly regulated industry where the Authority has the power to prevent operators who fail to deliver on basic requirements from jeopardizing the future of the Industry. A voluntary code does not enable the KTA to prevent operators who continue to undertake unsafe or illegal activities from conducting treks.

The KTA encourages the creation of voluntary codes of conduct, certification and/or accreditation schemes to provide opportunities for tour operators to operate at higher standards and to promote themselves to clients in this way. However, it is not common for the regulator to operate certification or accreditation schemes. These are normally operated by Industry Associations or private companies.

10. Why are medical checks for trekkers not included in the Licence?

This is a difficult issue in that medical checks do not provide a full-proof system that guarantee that serious injury and/or death will not occur. Doctors involved in this field have advised the KTA that they can (and have) produced guidelines and a simple checklist for family doctors to utilize but caution that this will not guarantee that problems will not occur while trekkers are on the Track.

At this stage we believe medical checks fit more appropriately in a Code of Conduct but we are willing to discuss this further and, perhaps, make it a CTL condition that tour operators must ensure each client has a recent medical certificate. This could well be a challenge for local operators and those managing the PNG elements of overseas treks as the clients are booked by others and arrive in country, often, to start trekking the same day.

11. How do I provide feedback?

Use the ‘Leava a Reply’ box below.


  1. This is a welcome initiative of the Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) and will be a valuable model in the development for other world-class trekking destinations throughout Papua New Guinea.

    A vision statement for the Kokoda Trail should be outlined in the preamble to the Licensing Agreement. We support the objectives as detailed and would add one which reflects the military significance of the trail. Following are our initial comments on each objective as listed:

    1. An enhanced experience for trekkers
    The Kokoda Trail is a living memorial to our veterans who fought along it during the Kokoda campaign – and to the ‘fuzzy-wuzzy’ angels who supported them. There needs to be a plan for the development and maintenance of interpretative memorials along the trail to allow trekkers to fully appreciate the significance of each site. Local landowners should be duly compensated for the ongoing maintenance of each site through the distribution of a portion of trek fees.

    2. Increased certainty for tour operators
    Local landowner disputes are an ongoing issue for trek operators. The KTA needs to develop a dispute resolution system to increase certainty for trek operators in the planning of their trek itineraries.

    3. Compliance with PNG laws and regulations
    The KTA should take the lead on this objective by complying with the official name i.e. ‘The Kokoda Trail’ as gazetted in PNG Government Gazette No. 88 of 12 October 1972, page 1362, column 2. Notice 1972/28 of the PNG Place Names Committee.

    The first step in this process would be to change their name to ‘The Kokoda Trail Authority’. If any Australian ‘commentator’ has an issue with this they should be advised of the proper process to effect a change of name as per current PNG government regulations. Before they do this they should note the name listed on the official battle honours of the 39th Militia Battalion i.e. ‘Kokoda Trail’.

    Other applicable PNG Government regulations should be advised to trek operators to allow them to comply accordingly.

    4. Respect for local culture and land owners
    It is difficult for trek operators to understand the complexities of relationships within and between landowners, clans, missionaries, lululais’, sorcerers, etc. It is therefore important for the KTA to conduct workshops in villages along the trail to establish protocols for trek operators to abide by. These workshops should be facilitated by professionals with extensive knowledge of Melanesian culture and language.

    5. Environmental sustainability
    This is important and should include a commitment to carry all rubbish off the trail; the establishment of environmental toilets along the way; and the accreditation of campsites with proper ablution facilities.

    6. A safer environment
    The most effective way of getting trekkers safely across the trail is to have them accompanied by trek leaders who are trained in remote area first aid and are equipped with VHF radios and satellite phones. A few sections of the trail could be made safer with the installation of safety railings (constructed by locals with local bush material).

    If any bridges are to be built they should – as a recommendaton – be at least 250 metres upstream or downstream from any battlesite.

    7. Fairness to workers
    This is important and should include a minimum wage, a maximum weight, and a list of minimum essential items for each PNG guide and carrier. This should include a trek uniform for easy identification; a sleeping bag, a foam sleeping mat; a return charter airfare; and a commitment for payment in full at end of each trek.

    The KTA should establish a ‘medical insurance’ fund to pay for the evacuation and treatment of any guide or carrier who is ill or injured on the trail during a trek. This should be funded from the 33 per cent increase in trek fees to be applied in 2010.

    8. Protection of military heritage

    The protection of the military heritage of the Kokoda Trail should be included as an objective. This includes respect for the integrity of battlesites along the trail and the disturbance/removal of military weapons, munitions and hardware.

    Medical Clearance Certification

    The KTA and trek operators have a duty of care to ensure people are properly prepared for the physical challenge of trekking across the Owen Stanley Range via the Kokoda Trail. Our experience has revealed that ‘family doctors’ need more objective criteria than a ‘set of guidelines and a simple checklist.’

    The preamble to the Medical Clearance Certificate required by Adventure Kokoda states:

    ‘Dear Doctor,

    ‘Our client is preparing for a trekking expedition across the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea.

    ‘The Kokoda Trail is located in remote mountainous jungle terrain in a tropical region. The climate is hot and humid. Much of the area is inaccessible by helicopter and remote from the nearest medical facility in Port Moresby. The trek itself is physically demanding and strenuous.

    ‘We require each of our clients to be in adequate physical and medical shape and free of any medical conditions that may prevent them from completing such an arduous personal challenge. We also need to ensure our trek leader is fully alerted to any potential health problems.’

    The medical doctor must then list the applicants height, weight and any previous and current medical conditions together with any current medications and dosages.

    They are also required to list any cardiac risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension, smoking history, high cholesterol, family history of heart disease and body mass index. If applicants are under 40 years of age and do not have any cardiac risk factors they are required to have a 12 lead ECG interpretation. If they are over 30 and have at least one cardiac risk factor they are required to have either an exercise stress test, a myocardial perfusion scan or a stress echo.

    This is a difficult process to manage but it has a couple of advantages:

    1. It provides a scientific rather than a subjective assessment of an applicants physical preparedness for an expedition across the Kokoda Trail; and

    2. It provides the trek leader with essential information in the event of a medical emergency during the trek.

    If the KTA is going to grant trek permits to individual trekkers then it must accept the responsibility to ensure they are physically capable of completing the trek and require them to submit a Medical Clearance Form with their Application for a Trek Permit.

    Trek operators should be required to submit a declaration that they have a Medical Clearance Certificate for each of the trekkers in their group when they apply for their Trek Permit. They should be advised of the legal implications for providing any false information in this regard.

    The KTA has a responsibility to protect the integrity of the ‘Kokoda’ brand. Everytime there is an evacuation from along the trail, or a death, the brand is diminished. Given the physical nature of the challenge it is imperative that the risk of evacuation and/or death is minimised to the maximum extent. This can only be achieved by ensuring trekkers are medically cleared for the challenge and that they have physically prepared themselves for it.

    We congratulate the KTA for this initiative and look forward to the issues paper to allow us to comment in more detail.

  2. Deb Wallace says:

    Its about time a licensing system was introduced as it may now work towards protecting the consumer from unethical operators. a perfect example is the latest “crawl” across the Trail, this mob are all about publicity, anyone who knows anything about the trail will agree, is it true they still owe outstanding trek fees from last year?

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