Monday, December 03, 2007


About Aaron Hayes

Aaron Hayes first came to Papua New Guinea in 1997 to work with the Education Department as a guidance officer.

Part of his job involved providing careers counselling to students in the secondary schools, and helping them prepare for life after Grade 10 or 12.

Hayes wrote a book called the PNG School Leaver's Handbook which is still available in schools.

“In the book I tried to present all kinds of ideas for young people to be self-employed in the village instead of hanging around unemployed in the towns,” he says.

“While researching village tourism for the Handbook I found out that hardly any tour companies were offering village-based tourism products to overseas travel agents and tour wholesalers.

“When I enquired, tour operators said that village tourism was unreliable, difficult to book and difficult to sell.

“They also said they couldn't make any profit out of it because village guest houses didn't pay commissions to agents who send them tourists.”

Hayes took the bull by the horn, and when he finished his contract with the Education Department at the end of 2002, he decided to stay in Papua New Guinea and start up two companies.

One is PNG Development Services which helps design community projects and business ventures for people in rural areas and the other company is Ecotourism Melanesia. Ecotourism Melanesia is an inbound tour company which specialises in sending tourists into the rural areas of PNG.

“My company has a policy that every one of our tours must include at least one night in a village guest house or rural lodge, no matter ‘how high’ the tourist is,” Hayes says.

“We offer tours all over PNG and also do Kokoda Trail trekking.

“My main aim was to prove that village tourism could be successfully packaged and sold through travel agents all over the world and I have already proven this because my company is growing after four years.

“My main frustration is that I cannot do enough to promote village tourism in PNG because I am only one person and one small tour company.”

In 2004, Hayes and a few like-minded people set up a non-profit organisation to help village people get involved in ecotourism and to help market PNG village guest houses overseas.

This organisation is the Community-Based Tourism Foundation of PNG Inc.

The organisation plans to run proper training for village guest house operators with training books and videos in Tok Pisin, and have its own website with all the village guest houses in PNG listed on the website and provide a booking service for all the guest houses, and market village tourism on the internet.

“We printed an awareness pamphlet about village tourism and distributed the pamphlet through provincial tourism officers and we have been flooded with hundreds and hundreds of letters from village people all over the country requesting help and advice on village-based tourism,” Hayes says.

“What an opportunity to help the rural people!

“But the CBTF only ran well for a year with funding from the Tourism Promotion Authority and since then we have been unable to get any more funding so the Community-Based Tourism Foundation is currently inactive.

“Letters continue to arrive every week asking for help but we are unable to respond at the moment.

“This was the only organisation dedicated to supporting the growth of the village guest house industry in PNG so it is sad that this organisation cannot be better supported.

“Requests for help sent to various donors and government departments have not been answered.”

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