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Old 27-01-2003, 08:35 PM
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Scientific Research Tourism - an under appreciated business opportunity in PNG

PNG is losing a significant opportunity for tourism income because of the cumbersome procedure for scientists to obtain permission to enter PNG, even for a relatively short period of time. Many give up and many more are discouraged by the minimum six months required to obtain an entry permit; they simply opt to go to other countries even though PNG has some of the last remaining pristine rainforests on earth. This asset could be capitalized upon, with no need to improve infrastructure, improve the crime problem, etc. because many biologists want to go to the rainforest, not the towns.

Below is a copy of an article we published recently and wish to call to your attention.

Andrew Mack

Readers of PNG Business and people interested in improving PNG's economy will be familiar with the potential tourism has to become a major sector in the national economy. What many do not realize, however, is the different and substantial ways that research can benefit the PNG economy.

From the onset, we must stress that bioprospecting is NOT research. Bioprospecting is a business venture no different than mineral prospecting-- it is a search for an extractable resource which can be sold on the market. Many people confuse bioprospecting with research.

The two are as different as tourism is from mineral prospecting. True research is not a quest for a marketable resource; true researchers collect data that is used to promote knowledge in free and open exchange.

Because the two are often confused the necessary regulations for bioprospecting are often applied to true researchers, and thereby reduce the ability of PNG to benefit from science. As professional biologists, we are extremely skeptical that any significant income for PNG will ever be generated from bioprospecting, but that is the subject for a separate article.

We wish to emphasize how scientific researchers, particularly in the biological sciences, can constitute a significant source of income for many Papua New Guineans. We will use as a case study, the research at just one site in PNG, the Crater Mountain Wildlife Management Area (CMWMA), which is administered by its resident landowners in collaboration with a PNG-based conservation NGO called the Research and Conservation Foundation of PNG (RCF).

The CMWMA is found about 60 km southwest of Goroka and sprawls over 2700 km2 in Eastern Highlands, Simbu and Gulf Provinces. We have kept accurate records of research use in the CMWMA since 1990 when a research station was first constructed there to help attract overseas researchers.

To date there have been about 180 research visitors to the CMWMA. This might not sound like much if you think of researchers as tourists, but researchers stay in PNG much longer than the average tourist. In the time we have monitored CMWMA, there were more than 17,000 occupancy-nights, or about 1545 nights per year.

Many small hotels or inns in PNG would be happy with such an occupancy rate. These are the data from just one site. If you multiply this by the numerous sites in PNG that are research destinations, you will see that researchers constitute a significant component of the tourism market, thereby contributing significantly to the local economy.

Researchers not only stay in PNG longer, but their "tourist dollars" are often directed differently than those of the average tourist in a package deal. Those 17,000 days in CMWMA brought income to the rural landowners in the form of sleep fees, employment, and purchase of local fresh produce and artifacts.

Although our data on these amounts are less accurate, our conservative assessment is that more than K 400,000 has gone directly into the communities of the CMWMA in the past decade due to researchers.

This does not include income from RCF staff or programs administered by RCF-- this is strictly income from foreign research tourism. Most income from typical tourists goes to major hotels, dive ships and other large corporations; most tourism income is spent in the larger urban centres.

Because most researchers spend substantial amounts of time in rural PNG, their spending boosts the purchasing potential of these cash-deficient rural communities.

Because the CMWMA is fairly remote, the research visitors have also contributed significantly to the economy outside of the CMWMA. All fly to Goroka then to the CMWMA, they stay in hotels in Goroka, and many have also traveled around PNG when not in the CMWMA.

We can only guess at the economic impact of this component, but it surely exceeds K 400,000. Thus at this one site, researchers have brought over K 800,000 (in 1995-valued Kina) in foreign revenue to PNG in the past decade.

Unlike the forestry, fishery or mining industries; research tourism causes no loss in natural resources. None of PNG's assets are taken from our shores and sold to generate this foreign revenue. Usually the only things that research tourists leave PNG with are notebooks filled with observations and numbers in them. Occasionally a very few specimens are taken as vouchers.

These collections have no impact on PNG's flora and fauna; they are not sold, they document and verify the scientist's observations and are deposited in herbaria and museums for educational purposes. In most countries sale of scientific specimens is, in fact, illegal and there is no market for them.

Moreover, unlike regular tourists, most researchers make contributions to help meet PNG's development needs above their significant economic input.

Researchers often contribute to education of science students in PNG; at CMWMA there have been 3346 person-days of training of PNG students.

Many of the research results from visiting scientists can have applications for improved natural resource management.

Thus, when you add the other benefits of research tourism with the foreign revenues they provide, you certainly have a win-win industry the mutually benefits all parties involved.

Most researchers are employed by universities and museums where a major portion of their jobs is to lecture and publish about their research. They give slide lectures that highlight PNG and publish magazine and technical journal articles that emphasize the natural beauty of our country.

Thus researchers that leave PNG provide free advertisement that would be unaffordable if you attempted to match it through traditional media.

Thus there is a difficult-to-quantify, but undeniable bonus in free tourism advertising provided by research visitors. Costa Rica was a major research destination in the 1960-80's. This is widely recognized as having raised the profile of this small country in the tourism trade.

Eco-tourism is now the third largest foreign revenue source for the country and has driven major development improvements. The PNG Tourism Promotion Authority cannot buy the sort of advertising that a healthy research tourism sector would provide.

A smart long-term strategy for promoting eco-tourist interest in our pristine environment would be to encourage the scientists who will laud PNG's beauty in their articles and lectures.

It makes sense to promote research tourism. PNG is biologically unique and biologists around the world fantasize about someday coming here. No place else on earth is vaguely similar to the island of New Guinea.

Why are there not more biologists coming here, and how can we promote economic growth from this sector? Unlike typical tourists, researchers do not need costly infrastructure, like five star hotels.

Most are seeking rural conditions and are not inhibited by poor infrastructure or the law and order reputation. Thus research tourism is a sector that can be promoted without first having to tackle major intractable problems.

Given that many biologists wish to come to PNG (our offices receive more than thirty inquiries per year from scientists considering visits to CMWMA), we should consider how to efficiently promote this sector of the tourist economy.

A number of innovative steps could be instituted to help. For example, the process for obtaining a research visa is currently slow and inefficient, thereby becoming a frustrating obstacle to many prospective researchers.

We have corresponded with many potential visitors who have simply given up because it takes so many months to obtain permission to be a visitor who wishes to study while they visit PNG.

Each such visitor that gives up in frustration represents significant income lost to PNG. A more streamlined process would increase the number of research tourists and with them foreign revenue.

Other innovative steps could be implemented-- perhaps a discount on excess baggage charges for scientific research equipment for bona fide researchers.

Our objective here is not to make specific suggestions, but to make the business community aware of a significant, but unrecognized sector of the tourism economy.

At the Crater site alone, research tourism is a major revenue earner and there is no reason this success cannot be repeated more in PNG if research visitors were actively encouraged.

We are convinced PNG could reap major economic and scientific benefits with a little effort to actively promote research tourism.

Andrew L. Mack
Wildlife Conservation Society
Box 277 Goroka

Robert Bino
Research and Conservation Foundation
Box 1261 Goroka

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