Kokoda: The Gateway for a Wartime Tourism Industry in PNG

Kokoda Anzac 2011 032The most relevant guide to the potential of a wartime tourism industry in PNG is the continued growth in Australians making the pilgrimage to Gallipoli.

Each year up to 9,000 Australians visit the Dawn Service at Anzac Cove.  Thousands more visit it at other times of the year. It is now becoming a pilgrimage for more than a million Turkish people also visiting Gallipoli each year.

In just two years’ time (2017) Australia and Papua New Guinea will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign. This will be a historic occasion because it will be the ‘last parade’ for surviving veterans.

Two of the key objectives we wished to achieve when we proposed the establishment of a management authority for the Kokoda Trail in 2002 were:

  1. to establish ‘Kokoda’ as a model for a wartime tourism industry in PNG; and
  2. to ensure villagers along the trail received shared benefits from the emerging Kokoda trekking industry.

Papua New Guinea has the potential to be a world class adventure-tourism destination but it has to address negative perceptions in regard to safety and reliability – particularly after the ‘Black Cat Track’ murders.  This will require a focused investment in national marketing and support for the development of niche adventures such as wartime pilgrimages, eco-trekking, white-water rafting, caving, bird-watching, diving, surfing, fishing and culture.

People who participate in these niche adventure activities are generally more aware of the sensitivities of culture and environment and do not expect 5-star accommodation and service. They are also more tolerant of ‘surprises’ that are often experienced in the ‘land of the unexpected’.

Recent interest in wartime tourism indicates that it has great potential as a niche industry for PNG tourism.  This is evident by the rapid increase in the number of trekkers since the 50th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign in 1992.

‘Kokoda’ is almost the complete adventure experience for Australian baby-boomers and young adventurers.  It requires physical stamina and mental tenacity. The wartime history evokes strong emotions.  The unconditional care and support of local PNG guides and villagers is humbling. The environment is rugged, remote and pristine.

Many trekkers have invited their PNG guides to Australia to meet families and friends after they return.  Many more are willing to contribute to agricultural, health and education initiatives to assist local villages as demonstrated in the attached report.

Beyond Kokoda are wartime adventures in Rabaul, Milne Bay, Buna, Gona, Salamaua, Nadzab, Lae, Finchafen, the Finisterre Ranges, Death Valley, Shaggy Ridge, Madang and Wewak.  These are not only different battlesites – they are inhabited by different cultures with different traditions that create an adventurous smorgasbord.  The 75th anniversary period from 2017 – 2020 will lead to increased numbers of Australians visiting these locations if PNG Tourism develops a wartime tourism strategy to develop and market these significant locations.

Wartime tourism is not restricted to trekkers.  It has the capacity for wartime cruises to Port Moresby, Milne Bay, Lae, Madang, Wewak, Aitape, Manus, Rabaul, Bougainville and the Solomon’s. Imagine an Anzac Dawn Service at Owers Corner; a showcase of PNG culture along Ela Beach; a ‘Beating-of-the-Retreat’ at Bomana War Cemetery followed by a 7-day Pacific War Cruise to each of the significant coastal/island battlesites.

The most important challenge for PNG is to develop a sustainable model that can be applied to each area.  The development of the Kokoda trekking industry provides a timely opportunity for a case study as the basis for developing such a model for wartime tourism.

PNG National Wartime Tourism Corporation

A PNG National Wartime Tourism Corporation (NWTC) established under the Companies Act would provide a national framework for such an industry.  It could operate as a business entity under the auspices of the Independent Public Business Corporation (IPBC) supported by a PNG Military Heritage Act.

The Kokoda Trail Management Authority model could be a precursor to the establishment of special business units owned by local communities being developed to manage each particular area – the Kokoda Trail, Black Cat Track, Shaggy Ridge, Buna-Gona-Sanananda, Lark Force, etc.

The NWTC should be run as a business with profits returned for local community development. Participating government from Australia, the United States and Japan could be invited to develop, fund and maintain interpretative memorials for each area of military historical significance. They would also contribute specialist personnel familiar with Melanesian culture and the necessary infrastructure to support access to such sites as the demand for pilgrimages develops.

The long-term benefits of wartime tourism extend far beyond the tourism industry.  These include the protection of our wartime heritage; a sustainable source of income for local landowners and an empathetic gateway for a better understanding of our cultural differences.

Government to Government Structure

The Australian Government should consider rationalising responsibility for the Kokoda Trail and the broader Owen Stanley Ranges between the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Environment.  Both agencies should work through the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby

The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) should be the lead agency for the Kokoda Trail and other significant areas of interest to our future generations.  This is not a radical realignment as DVA is the lead agency responsible for Gallipoli and the recent development of a Remembrance Trail on the Western Front in France and Belgium.

The DVA website advises that the Remembrance Trail was developed:

  • ‘To inform and guide visitors of all ages, levels of fitness, and amounts of travel time. Visitors can view key locations at which Australians fought, and visit high quality interpretive centres that present Australian material, while also visiting related sites of Australian interest.
  • ‘The interpretive materials assume no prior knowledge of military history and are available in a mix of traditional and digital media formats. The Australian Remembrance Trail and associated materials provide ample opportunity for contemplative reflection.’

If DVA can develop such an interpretive trail for WW1 on the Western Front in Europe could it not develop a similar WW2 interpretive trail along the Kokoda Trail in PNG?

The Department of Environment should be the lead agency for the Owen Stanley World Heritage Working Group and should work in close collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs; the PNG Department of Environment and Conservation; the PNG Office of Tourism, Arts and Culture and associated bodies.

A review of the growth of wartime tourism in Gallipoli and the Western Front indicates that the future of the Kokoda trekking industry is assured.  In the first instance the growth of the industry will depend on the professionalism of the management structure; the development of a master plan reflecting the wartime history of the Kokoda campaign as a model; a free enterprise system for the income generators for the industry i.e. trek and tour operators who invest their own capital in research, marketing, sales, operations and logistics; and a community development plan to ensure villagers receive shared benefits from the industry.

A revised Kokoda Trail management body would be an effective model for other areas of military historical significance.

Wartime tourism is unique because it unites people who were once divided.  It provides an avenue for the establishment of empathetic relationships between trekkers and tourists of various nationalities and subsistence villagers who are the guardians of sites sacred to Australia, the United States and Japan.

The potential of the Kokoda trekking industry and the benefits that will accrue to local villagers along the trail is currently limited by the lack of a professional management authority supported by appropriate legislation.

The potential of a wartime tourism industry is currently limited by an effective strategy supported by an appropriate organisational structure.

The recent realignment of the Kokoda Development Program and the Kokoda Initiative under the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is a welcome initiative.

The following recommendations are considered necessary to allow the Kokoda trekking industry and wartime tourism to achieve its potential:

  1. Establish the Kokoda Trail Management Authority as a business entity under the auspices of Kumul Consolidated Holdings (formerly the Independent Public Business Corporation) as a precursor to the establishment of a National Wartime Tourism Corporation.
  2. Appoint a Board of Directors which includes the Secretary of the Office of Tourism, Arts and Culture, the Secretaries of the Oro and Central Provincial governments; a corporate executive; a senior lawyer; a senior accountant; and a qualified military historian.
  3. Appoint a Kokoda Trail Advisory Council with representation from the Koiari and Kokoda Local Level Governments; Ward Chairmen from each sector along the trail; the Port Moresby RSL; and a trek operator’s representative.
  4. Develop legislation to support the Kokoda Trail Management Authority – a Military Heritage Act.
  5. Develop a master plan to protect and interpret the military history of the Kokoda campaign.
  6. Develop a plan to establish a military historical-cultural precinct centre at Owers Corner and Kokoda to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign.

We are the link generation between those who served and those who will inherit their legacy. If we do not work collaboratively with PNG to protect sites that are sacred to our wartime heritage following generations will never forgive us.

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