Thursday, August 27, 2009

Landowners' high demands affect tourism

Major tour operator Ecotourism Melanesia will not be bringing any more Kokoda trekking groups via Popondetta / Buna / Gona until the problem with Kumusi River crossing is resolved.

This is because landowners are charging hugely-inflated prices up to K500 for a group of tourists just to cross the Kumusi River.

The high prices are affecting the entire tourism industry in the area.

Ecotourism Melanesia director Aaron Hayes said while his trekkers were happy to cross the river on rubber tubes, the company could not sustain the high cost being charged by landowners for crossing the river.

“We are happy to pay the local boys a reasonable fee to assist our clients with crossing the river, eg K20 per person, and additional payment for rafting our gear across, but we cannot afford the high fees being charged by the landowners on top which is up to K500 per group,” he said.

“When the bridge was in operation, the landowners didn't charge people for crossing the bridge, so now that the bridge is gone and people are swimming across, we don't understand why the landowners are suddenly charging people to cross the same river by different means of transportation.

“What about people who fly across the river by plane or chopper, are the landowners also charging them for crossing?”

Mr Hayes said his company’s  prices for trekking packages were set 18 months ago,  based on anticipated costs,  and allowing only a modest profit margin because the Kokoda trekking industry was now very competitive and it had to keep our prices as low as possible.

“Extra unexpected costs like these river crossing fees charged by landowners are not budgeted for in our trekking package, and we can't put our prices up halfway through the season, or ask our clients to pay more after they have already pre-paid for their trekking package many months ago,” he said.

“Therefore, our only option is to either pay these unreasonable fees out of our profit margin - which then makes the trek package uneconomical to operate via Popondetta - or re-route all our groups direct to Kokoda and skip Popondetta. 

“If they can make the river crossing costs reasonable, then we can still keep operating via Kumusi and pay them something, but if they maintain these high fees we must stop operating via Popondetta and the Kumusi people will get nothing at all from us.”


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