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    Papua New Guinea


    International Trade Forum - Issue 2/2009 

    © istock photo 

    When Kim Arut's husband fell ill, she was left no choice but to leave her job and take over running the family business. In the three years since, Kumul Lodge in Papua New Guinea has been doing better than ever.

    Kumul Lodge, a tourist accommodation and birdwatching haven, is nestled in the Highlands in Enga Province, Papua New Guinea. When Kim Arut and her husband started the business in 1999, they listed him as the sole company director; she intended to retain her job at Telekom. But when his health began to fail in 2006, doctors advised that he move back to their Mount Hagen home, at a lower altitude than the lodge and away from the thin mountain air. Left with little choice, Ms Arut has been running the business ever since.

    Registering a business in Papua New Guinea is a laborious and costly process, taking an average of eight weeks. Ms Arut and her husband were assisted with a grant of 70,000 Papua New Guinean kina (PGK), or about $27,000, from the provincial government, which went towards building the initial six rooms and establishing their business. They now have 23 rooms, catering for up to 69 people during their August peak.

    "In 2004 we had a couple of visitors from Lonely Planet who stayed with us and commented on the amazing birdlife. They added Kumul Lodge to their guidebook," Ms Arut says. That's when business really began. Since then, visitors have been contacting them through the Government's tourism office in Port Moresby. The office had so many enquiries that it eventually helped Kumul Lodge set up its own website.

    Kumul Lodge (which means bird of paradise lodge) is the second most visited accommodation spot for birdwatching in Papua New Guinea. It's a quiet place, popular with international tourists interested in relaxing, trekking the highlands and taking in nature. Birdwatchers will often name the new birds they see at Kumul Lodge, update the list of species in the area and send it back to Ms Arut to pass on to new visitors.

    There is some competition coming up, one hour from Kumul Lodge. But Ms Arut is confident that her business offers a unique experience. "The visitors that come to Kumul Lodge don't want a television. We don't allow drinking of alcohol either…we don't want to scare the birds away as they are bringing our international visitors."

    Growing business

    "The business would fall apart if I wasn't there," she admits. Her husband often remarks at her success, asking her, "What are you doing? I don't know - but whatever it is, it gets us a big name." Ms Arut says he wouldn't know how she runs the business at all.

    Ms Arut took over operations in 2006, at a time when group travellers started visiting. Most of her guests are from Austria, Finland, France, Germany, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States, in groups of 10, 12 or 15 people. There are also many visitors from Australia, although they tend to be individual travellers. "With the global financial crisis I think many from the United States are not booking to come this year. So far, we still have bookings from the UK and South Africa," she says.

    As at March 2009, she charges an average of PGK155 ($60) a night for a double room, with guests staying on average three to four days. This brings in some PGK900,000 ($350,000) annually - enough to support Ms Arut, her husband and their four children, and put a little aside for upgrading the lodge each year.

    Growth in the community

    In 2007, Ms Arut helped to organize a workshop funded by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to develop a strategy for tourism in Papua New Guinea. IFC, the Tourism Promotion Authority and the Minister for Tourism all gathered at Kumul Lodge, along with other government departments and guest-house owners.

    She wants to bring in tourism experts to help raise the standards at Kumul Lodge, but says the villagers don't like being told what to do by someone from outside. So she does a lot of on-the-job training herself. She'd like to complete a business management course, she says, but doesn't yet have anyone to look after operations while she does the training.

    Kumul Lodge employs 15 staff, all local villagers, and pays them fortnightly, even in quiet periods. Most of her employees are women, who cook, clean and tend to the rooms. "When the international visitors come, they go into the kitchen and try to teach my cousin [the chef who manages the kitchen] how to cook," says Ms Arut. "We have had some nice international buffet meals that way!"

    Kumul Lodge pays land fees of PGK10 ($4) per guest to the adjoining landowners and tries to educate them on the importance of the birds to business so they don't harm the very animals the guests are paying to see.

    Building on opportunities

    The peak tourist season runs from June to September, and takes in the Mount Hagen cultural show in August. Every year this season brings in enough funds to upgrade the lodge. In 2008, for example, they extended a room. Kumul Lodge cannot meet demand at peak times and would like to expand further, but they lack the funds. They also need to install a water supply, fencing and solar power to replace the current system of boiling water over wood fires for heating and showers.

    They also plan to improve communications by installing a wireless phone, when they can afford the cost. Until then, without an email or Internet connection, during peak season Ms Arut collects visitors' messages and emails them to their friends and family from her computer in Mount Hagen. She also prints the responses via email and takes them back to the visitors at Kumul Lodge.