As the 5th Melanesian Arts Festival comes to a conclusion, one area we have noticed is the lack of tourists attending the festival. It is a disappointment considering the magnitude of this event and the fact that such a festival will not happen in Papua New Guinea again for another 10 or so years. It is a lost opportunity for the Papua New Guinea tourism industry to not only expose its rich culture but also the places and people that makes truly unique.
Why it has come to this we are not sure but once again Papua New Guinea will continue to struggle to attract tourists to boost its tourism industry. As a sustainable and renewable resource, the people of Papua New Guinea are the end losers. This was an opportunity to help the people to utilize their culture, their traditions and their place to make a living out of it.
For the amount of money involved to fund this festival, this event was to be bigger than any other cultural event held in the country. So where did it go wrong?
The marketing of the event has been poor. To attract tourists, there several fundamental areas that marketing needs to be focused on. The organizers of this event should have considered professionals who specialize in marketing tourism products overseas. It would have been a bonus to choose an organization that has experience in marketing PNG as a tourism destination. And there is no better place to go to than the Tourism Promotion Authority. The TPA despite its shortfalls has in association with other tourism professionals conducted successful marketing campaigns. It is believed that the TPA was in fact tasked with this responsibility but lack of co-ordination from the event organizers resulted in the proposed marketing campaigns not proceeding.
Australia makes up a significant number of arrivals in the country. There was hardly any promotion or marketing activity targeting this group.
The setting of the date for the event could have been strategically set to a date that could have coincided with the arrival of two main cruise ships. The MS Europa and the MS The World berthed on Port Moresby’s Fairfax Harbour within months from the festival. Most of these cruise ships’ arrivals are set a year in advance and this should have already been known to the organizers so that the event date should have been held around these times. This would have been a cost effective marketing strategy with tourists already here without spending any money on them to get them here. Not to mention, these cruise ship tourists are luxury looking tourists and have money to spend. With an attraction such as the Melanesian culture, there would have been a good chance for these tourists to not only spread the uniqueness of our culture but to also return themselves.
The other notable omission as far as promoting tourists is concerned is the lack of participation by tour operators to include package tours that involve activities in the festival. One would have thought that such an opportunity would enable to operators to package tour products and on-sell to various markets. The problem with this is that if very little information is given, let alone the lack of preparation of it, it is difficult to create quality packages. Add on the marketing of these packages and you will find that the risk tour operators is quite significant and perhaps not worth proceeding with. Obviously, if the TPA isn’t as involved as one would have thought, it’s difficult for its members and partners to join in and take advantage of the opportunities the festival offers. In any event, TPA should have been given exclusive management to promote the event internationally as they have knowledge, know-how and experience.
The event website is mediocre. There is nothing special about it and the content in one word is “boring”. Even to this date, the website has not been updated showing the latest images of the event or specific programs to be held on a given day. With real time information the key to digital media, the website has been a waste of money. Sure there is a program to download, but updating the website daily to allow return visitors would have been the approach to take in order to get value for money spent on the construction of the website. Ultimately, if you don’t market the website people will not know about it.
The event Facebook page is doing a marvelous job updating the images and information as the event proceeds. It would have been wonderful if the Facebook page had been operated a year ago to gunner interest in the event. Given the global reach of social media, a targeted marketing campaign should have been undertaken to reach out to potential tourists. It doesn’t cost a lot to market on social media.
We could go on and on with this but the bottom line is – a specialized event management company could have done all this and more.