By Seniorl Anzu
The travel and tourism industry is one of the largest and fastest growing industries on Earth. Either conventional mass tourism (eg taking that trip to Paris or Las Vegas) or alternative tourism (eg. agritourism, ecotourism, cultural tourism, natural tourism, etc), the World Tourism Organsiationrecorded 980 million international arrivals last year (2011).
The alternate tourism is essentially small-scale and low-density tourism which involves tourists with above average incomes but higher education. Agritourism and ecotourism focus on travel that empowers local communities, both socially and economically.
Agritourism is a niche tourism which is considered a growth industry in many parts of the world including Australia, Canada, the United States, and the Philippines. Agritourism or agro-tourism involves traveling around farming, small-scale food production or animal husbandry. Visiting a village farm or ranch for the purpose of enjoyment and education are key aspects of this often rural experience.
Tourism that respects natural habitats and helps improve the local community is often referred to as ecotourism or sustainable tourism. Ecotourism relates to nature conservation, awareness, environmental protection, ecologically sustainable, and one that provides financial benefits and empowerment for local people. Travellers, worldwide, spend $2-3 trillion on their trips annually of which ecotourism represents about 2 percent of that total presently.
Tourists taking up ecotourism generally spend their eco-vacation at an eco-lodge – a hotel or vacation spot that follows the philosophy of ecotourism. An eco-lodge is an industry label used to identify a nature-dependent tourist lodge that offers an educational and participatory experience.
Naturally, the vacation experience at an eco-lodge would include an environment that reflects certain features of which ‘purchasing food from local farmers by tourists’ is an eminent one. Presently, ecolodges exist in countries all around the globe – such as Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Trinidad, Kenya, Tanzania and Australia. Ecolodges offer accommodations from deluxe rooms to outdoor tents. Many provide excellent opportunities for relaxation, experiencing nature and cultural activities.
There are different types of ecolodges; including those that specialise in adventure travel such as mountain-climbing, backpacking or river expeditions. Others specialise in nature or education based travel with activities including learning about surrounding wildlife or regional history from a local guide.
Apparently, tourism has strong connection with agriculture, natural ecosystem and hospitality with huge potential for socio-economic benefits to environment and local inhabitants sustainably.
PNG has the opportunity to benefit the 80 percent farmers and rural communities in agritourism/ ecotourism, given its vast resources. Morobe Province is the first in the Pacific to try out a new village movement concept, focusing on agritourism/eco-tourism development, courtesy of the South Korean Government. The pilot project includes the construction of a yam-based tourism facility, ‘Saemaul Eco-lodge’, and the production and processing of yams.
This is a cooperation project for rural development between Korea and PNG, facilitated by Korea’s Kangwon National University and PNG’s NARI. The Korean Government has invested US$58, 900 in this new initiative which is expected to bring positive developments in agritourism/eco-tourism.
Officially launched in late 2010, the eco-lodge was established at Gabensis village near Lae. The local community will use the eco-lodge to accommodate tourists visiting Gabensis to adventure the attractive Wanam Lake and enjoy activities like diving, canoeing, fishing, bush tracking and bird watching. In doing so, they will also spend their money on yams produced and processed at the lodge site by the local community.
The project comprises lodge establishment, yam agronomy and yam processing – all to be facilitated at the project site with the local community. Under agronomy, interested local farmers will participate in trainings by NARI on best practice by going through stage-by-stage of the critical production practices so as to impart appropriate and relevant skills for improved production. This training will be provided through the ‘farmer field school model’.
With food processing, NARI will also demonstrate yam processing techniques for value added products for income generation by the local community. It is anticipated that once the project is completed, the community will take ownership and promote it to attract tourists and visitors.
PNG foods are perishable and the project will look at food processing and preservation which will also address value-addition and food security needs.
Similar projects were undertaken in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Tanzania with the mission to alleviate poverty through agritourism/ecotourism. The outcome of the project will be important to PNG.
For the project to be successful, a major activity will be to attract tourists from the millions in that travel the globe. Between January and August 2010, the World Tourism Barometer records show that worldwide international arrivals stand at 642 million, some 40 million more than during the same months of 2009 (+7%). The growth is expected to continue at a more moderate pace in 2011. The PNG TPA Garamut newsletter (2010) shows that there were 125,891 international arrivals last year. This may give some indication on the number of tourists travelling which PNG can capture under the alternative tourism category.
For the PNG agritourism/ecotourism to prosper, it needs collaborative efforts involving authorizes and agencies in tourism, agriculture, environment conservation, and hospitality; local governments; interested local communities and other stakeholders. The diversified flora and fauna, the natural agriculture-based economy, and human skills provide huge potentials for effective partnerships for agritourism/ecotourism development in PNG.