This Discussion Paper was submitted for consideration by the Board of the Kokoda Track Authority in January 2015.

We requested that other ideas should be canvassed where appropriate so that proposals could be debated and tested.  The objective was to learn from the experiences of the KTA since it was first established in 2004 and see if there was a better way to manage the Kokoda trekking industry to meet the expectations of the paying customer i.e. the trekker and the local communities along the Kokoda Trail.

No acknowledgement or response was received.

Introduction

The Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) is in urgent need of reform if it is to realise its potential as a world class trekking destination.

The current organisation and administration is the legacy of a failed management system imposed by Australian Department of Environment bureaucrats since 2009. During this period millions of kina were wasted on Australian bureaucrats and consultants who were sent to PNG to address problems they will never understand.

Their record of failure is evident in the following performance indicators:

  1. a 46 per cent decline in trekker numbers since Australian Government bureaucrats first became involved in 2008;
  2. a failed Village Livelihoods Program that has not generated one additional toea in additional income for villagers;
  3. a dysfunctional management system; and
  4. a failure to develop a strategy for a master plan to honour and protect the wartime heritage of the Kokoda Trail.
In April 2015 Australians will commemorate the Centenary of Anzac.  This will lead to a substantial increase in trekker numbers during the Anzac period in April 2015.  A check of most trek operator websites shows that most treks are already fully booked.  This will inevitably lead to congestion and conflict at existing campsites which do not have the capacity to handle such large numbers. Under the current system of management there is no requirement for trek operators to submit detailed trek itineraries and no system for booking campsites. This has the potential to generate negative publicity if it is not addressed.

Opportunity for KTA

This Centenary of Anzac period presents the KTA with a timely opportunity to reclaim ownership of the Kokoda trekking industry; reorganise their management structure to meet the needs of trekkers and villagers; and relocate to a more appropriate location.

Options for KTA

The following options are available for consideration by the KTA;

  1. Continue with no change to the current management system.
    The shortcomings of this option which were inherited from Canberra based Australian bureaucrats has been canvassed in previous papers submitted to the KTA and are obvious to those with a genuine interest in a sustainable trekking industry based on wartime tourism.

    The proof of their failure is the 46 per cent decline in trekker numbers under the watch of the Australian Government since 2008.
  2. PNG Government reclaims ownership of the Kokoda trekking industry.
    This will involve organisational change that provides for the professional management of the Kokoda trekking industry and provides for substantial and sustainable development for village communities along the trail. 

DISCUSSION: OPTION 2

Option 2 would divide the responsibility for (1) managing Kokoda trekking operations and (2) delivering community benefits for local villagers.

The most appropriate way for the PNG Government to reclaim ownership of the Kokoda trekking industry is to rename, restructure and relocate.

  • Rename
    The KTA should be rebadged as ‘The Kokoda Trail Management Authority’ (KTMA).

    ‘Kokoda Trail’ is the official name of the Battle Honour awarded to the Papuan Infantry Battalion by the Australian Battles Nomenclature Committee which was established to define the battles in the Pacific in 1947. Their final report in 1958 adopted ‘Kokoda Trail’ as the official Commonwealth battle honour. It was also awarded to the 10 Australian infantry battalions who fought in the Kokoda campaign. 


On 23 June 1972 the PNG Chief Minister, Michael Somare, assumed office when the nation achieved self-government as part of the process to independence in 1975. Mr Somare accepted the recommendation of the Place Names Committee and the name ‘Kokoda Trail’ was gazetted four months later on 12 October 1972 (PNG Government Gazette No. 88 of 12 October 1972, page 1362, column 2. Notice 1972/28 of the PNG Place Names Committee refers).

In an address to 40 members of the 39th Battalion on the Kokoda plateau in 1972 Captain Bert Kienzle referred to the track Vs trail debate (The Architect of Kokoda p.311). Kienzle said:

‘We, who fought and saved this nation, PNG, from defeat by a ruthless and determined enemy knew it as the Kokoda Trail not track. . . so I appeal to you and all of those who helped us defend this great country to revere and keep naming it the Kokoda Trail in memory of those great me who fought over it.  Lest we forget.’

The new management authority should reflect the fact that PNG owns the Kokoda Trail which is officially recognised by the Battle Honour awarded to their own Papuan Infantry Battalion and which is on the statute books of their National Government They should not allow themselves to be bullied by politically correct Australian bureaucrats or journalists.

Restructure
The restructure should acknowledge that there are two essential components of the Kokoda trekking industry:

  1. the owners of the land they trek across; and
  2. The needs and expectations of the paying customer i.e. Australian trekkers interested in the wartime history of the Kokoda campaign.

The responsibility for managing trekking operations along the Kokoda Trail to meet the needs and expectations of the paying customer should rest with the KTMA.  This includes:

  • the development of legislation to support the industry;
  • licensing of trek operators;
  • effective management of Kokoda Trail rangers;
  • the welfare of PNG guides, carriers and support crews;
  • the implementation of a campsite booking system;
  • management of trek operator intineraries;
  • management of campsite facilities for trekkers and their PNG support crews; and
  • the conduct of annual Koiari and Orokaiva workshops at Efogi and Kokoda.

The responsibility for the effective development of community programs should be in partnership with an independent body such as Network Kokoda – a Not for Profit Company established to develop agricultural, health and education programs for villages along the Kokoda Trail.  Under such an arrangement the CEO of the KTMA would join the Board of Network Kokoda in an ex-officio capacity (along with Dame Carol Kidu, Marianna Ellingson and Charlie Lynn). The current village livelihoods officer on the KTA would become the Kokoda Trail Community Development Officer.

www.networkkokoda.org

Network Kokoda already employs an Agricultural Field Manager, Mr Oggie Erehe, who has developed successful agricultural programs at the Sogeri National High School and Iaowari High School.  In 2015 Network Kokoda will be providing fresh produce to more than 1000 students. Mr Erehe has developed community agricultural programs in eight villages on the Sogeri Plateau and plans to replicate these programs in Kokoda in 2015.  Network Kokoda has obtained a lease of 1.5 hectares of land from the Bahai Faith adjacent to the Sogeri Lodge and is renovating the house on the property for use as a classroom for agricultural and learning programs for women and young adults.
Network Kokoda sources its funds from Australians who have previously trekked the Kokoda Trail.  

The role of the KTMA should therefore be to manage trekking across the Kokoda Trail between Owers Corner and Kokoda.

Division of Responsibility for Trek Management, Infrastructure and Marketing

he responsibility for the development and maintenance of the infrastructure necessary to ensure that trekkers have a safe and informative experience rests with the national governments of Australia and PNG who are beneficiaries of taxation revenue generated by the Kokoda trekking industry.  This includes maintenance of the road from Sogeri to Owers Corner; airfields at Menari, Efogi, Kagi and Kokoda; and an effective VHF communications system.   The responsibility for marketing Papua New Guinea as a world class adventure destination rests with PNG Tourism.    The responsibility for marketing adventure activities – trekking, diving, surfing, fishing, etc rests with individual travel agents and operators.  It is not a function of the management of the trekking industry.  

 Relocate

The current office of the KTA in Boroko is inaccessible to landowner and trek operators. It was appropriate to have the office in this location when the KTA was established in 2004 but this no longer the case.

The KTMA should be relocated to 14-mile in the buildings formerly occupied by Koiari Holdings.  The could be developed as a Koiari Cultural Centre with an Arts and Crafts shop, a coffee shop, etc.  Buses carrying trekkers to and from the trail could be invited to call in for a half-hour stop to visit the area and make purchases.  14-mile is also convenient for landowners to visit for meetings and workshops with the KTMA staff.

The relocation would save around K5000 per month in rent and be more appropriate for the needs of the key components of the trekking industry i.e. the paying customers and the landowners.

Potential

If the KTMA is established to professionally manage the Kokoda Trail as a world class trekking destination the potential is enormous.

Some of Australia’s wealthiest and most influential people have trekked across the Kokoda Trail.  Many of these people would be willing to contribute to the ongoing develop of villagers along the trail however there is no management mechanism for them to be identified. Effective management tools are based on a professional website, an effective database and a social media strategy.  The absence of such is one of the greatest failures of the Rod Hillman era of management.


Professional management will enable campsite and battlesite owners to increase their income through a system of pre-payments into bank accounts and detailed audits of payments received from trek operators.

Realistic training programs can be developed to create financial opportunities for villagers to earn additional income through the establishment of a trekker laundry service, a coffee and scone service, the production of Kokoda Trail billum bags with village names, the sale of carved trekking poles, stalls selling tropical fruits, sing-sings, the construction of a hot shower facility at K5 each (see Bomber’s Campsite), etc.  If each trekker spent K500 during their trek, and this is possible, the villagers would earn a combined income of almost K2 million per year.

The current ‘KTA marketing levy’ should be scrapped as marketing is not a function of the management authority.  It should be replaced by a K100 ‘Community Development Levy’ which would raise K350,000 each trekking season for village community projects to be managed by Network Kokoda in partnership with the KTMA.

The Australian student discount for campsites must be scrapped. It is immoral to require local campsite owners to provide a 50 per cent subsidy for student trekkers who come from some of the wealthiest private schools in Australia. These students pay full price for their Air Niugini ticket.  They pay full price for the accommodation in Port Moresby. Why should local villagers be required to provide a 50 per cent discount?

There is scope for an increase in peak season trek fees which would substantially increase income for the KTMA.  Trek operators will require at least 12 month notice of any proposed changes to the current system to allow them to budget accordingly.  They would also need to be reassured that any increase in fees was commensurate with an increase in management effectiveness.


Essential Management Tools

The essential tools for an effective management system are:

  1. A Head Office;
  2. a modern, relevant website;
  3. a comprehensive database management system;
  4. an Online Booking System;
  5. a social media strategy;
  6. a VHF communications system; and
  7. trained rangers.

KTMA WEBSITE

  • About Us
    KTMA Board Members
    Organisational Chart
  • PNG Visitor Information
    Papua New Guinea
    Central Province
    Oro Province
    Kioari Local Level Government Authority
    Kokoda Local Level Government Authority
  • The Kokoda Trail
    History
    Map
    Campsites
  • Licensed Trek Operators
    License Number
    Name of Company
    Public Liability Insurance Policy Number
    Code of Conduct
    Contact Details
  • Niusletas
  • Blog
  • Trekker Survey

    a. Why did you trek? (Physical Challenge – Wartime History – Bucket List – Adventure – Culture – Environment)

    b. Did your trek experience meet your expectations? (Yes – No – Comment)

    c. Your Trek Operator (Name of Company – Very Good – Good – Fair – Poor – Comment)

    d. Standard of meals provided by your trek operator (Very Good – Good – Fair – Poor – Comment)

    e. Battlesite Briefings (Very Good – Good – Fair – Poor – Comment)

    f. Campsites (Very Good – Good – Fair – Poor – Comment)

    g. Toilets (Very Good – Good – Fair – Poor – Comment)

    h. Showers (Very Good – Good – Fair – Poor – Comment)

    i. The Trail (Safe – Unsafe – Comments)

    j. Bridge Crossings (Safe – Unsafe – Comments)

    k. Tents provided by your trek operator (Yes – No – Very Good – Good – Fair – Poor – Comment)

    l. PNG Guides and Support Crew (Very Good – Good – Fair – Poor – Comment)

j. Please comment on any suggestions you have to improve the Kokoda trekking experience.

ONLINE APPLICATION FOR TREK PERMITS

The online Application for Trek Permits would be the basis of a comprehensive database management program.  Trek Operators would be required to submit the following details via an Excel spreadsheet up to two weeks prior to their scheduled trek:

  1. Name of Trek Operator
  2. Public Liability Insurance Policy Details (Name of insurer, policy number, date of currency)
  3. Date of Trek
  4. Direction of Trek
  5. Trek Itinerary
  6. Trekker details:
  7. Name
  8. Travel Insurance (Company & Policy Number)
  9. Contact Phone Number
  10. Email address
  11. Emergency Contact Details (Name, phone, email)

Trek Permits would not be issued until all fields had been entered and all fees had been received.

The Excel spreadsheet would automatically update the KTMA database which would list each group, their respective trek itineraries and their campsite bookings.

Rangers would then audit respective trek groups by counting the number of trekkers and carriers as they pass through various trek groups.  They can also identify if there have been any injuries and/or evacuations and report to the KTMA accordingly.

One week prior to the start of each scheduled trek the KTMA would credit campsite fees and significant site fees to the respective landowners bank accounts.

Trek operators would then be issued with a receipt for their trek fees and a confirmation of their booking for each campsite according to their respective trek itineraries.

Environmental Protection

In recent years there has been significant degradation of the natural flora along the Trail through indiscriminate clearing of campsites in inappropriate locations.  Many of these sites have never been used by trekkers and have reverted to ‘secondary growth’ eyesores.

At the same time there are a number of ‘choke points’ on the Trail where there are insufficient campsites to meet trekker numbers.

An effective database management system will provide statistics necessary to advise landowners of when and where campsites should be constructed thereby increasing income potential for them.

Campsite Certification

There needs to be a Campsite Certification Program relevant to the needs of the paying customer and their PNG support crew.  A PNG standard design should be developed for the construction and certification of:

  • Toilets with privacy screens;
  • Showers with privacy screens and areas for changing clothes and laying out gear (hot showers similar to the one at Bomber’s Campsite should also be encouraged);
  • Kitchen and dining hut;
  • Drying huts with clothes lines and space for two fires;
  • Suitable and adequate huts for PNG support crews.

Facilities should be built out of bush material wherever possible.

Action Required

The following action will be required if the KTMA proposal is approved:

January – March 2015

  1. Inspect all campsites along the trail and advise on requirements to meet ‘certification’ prior to commencement of the 2015 trekking season.  The inspection should include:
  2. Toilets
  3. Ablution blocks (showers and wash facilities)
  4. Drying huts for trekkers
  5. Kitchens
  6. Dining areas
  7. Huts for PNG support crews
  8. KTMA Team to include:
  9. KTMA staff; and
  10. A team of local PNG Trek Leaders
  11. Campsites:
  12. Identify campsite owners
  13. Assist in establishing bank accounts
  14. Record details of campsites with pictures and written reports

Community Development

Community Development should be a joint partnership between the KTMA, Network Kokoda, the Central and Oro Provincial Governments and the Koiari and Kokoda Local Level Government Authorities.

A K100 ‘Community Development Levy’ should be introduced to pay villagers for trail maintenance and to support local community learning programs. 

Major community development programs would be supported by Network Kokoda fundraising initiatives in Australia.  These fundraising initiatives would be targeted at trekkers listed on the KTMA database.

Australian Funding Support

The Australian Government should be invited to fund the following two positions on the KTMA:

  1. Business Operations Manager; and
  2. Chief Ranger

The final selection of suitable applicants for the positions should rest with the KTMA.

The Australian Government should also be invited to fund a master memorial plan which reflects the wartime historical significance of the Kokoda Trail.

The Australian Government should also be invited to contribute towards the maintenance of the road between Sogeri and Owers Corner; airfields at Menari, Efogi, Kagi and Kokoda; and the VHF communications system.

If the Australian Government does not agree to these terms the KTMA should withdraw from the Kokoda Initiative and any involvement in the application for a World Heritage Listing for the Owen Stanley Ranges.

Charlie Lynn
11 January 2015