Thursday, August 27, 2009

Local Kokoda Trail operators form association to counter Aussie onslaught

An association has already been formed to further the interests of local Papua New Guinea trekking operators along the Kokoda Trail as well as regulate its lucrative trekking industry and limit the numbers of Australia-based operators.

This follows recent allegations in the media that Australian-owned trekking companies operating along the Kokoda Trail were doing so illegally and cheating the governments of both Australia and PNG of taxes.

Ironically, Australian Aaron Hayes, who runs Ecotourism Melanesia, is spearheading moves to set up this association.

Mr Hayes said that lack of training, resources and lack of tech-savvy was all that was preventing locals from competing in the lucrative Kokoda trekking industry – PNG’s biggest tourism money spinner.

He also revealed how Australian operators were cheating the PNG Government of millions of kina in taxes.

“The Kokoda Trekking Operators Association (KTOPA) we have formed has plans to provide training and support to local operators,” he said.

“Trouble is, we have not been able to get any support from anybody yet.

 “A meeting of the Kokoda Trekking Operators Association will be held at the Ecotourism Melanesia office this coming Sunday, Aug 30, at 2pm.

 “The purpose of the meeting is to discuss a way forward for KTOPA now that Australian operators and some larger PNG operators have decided to form another association.”

Mr Hayes explained the association was set up with a constitution that specified that only PNG-based operators could be full members and Australian companies could be associate members without voting rights.

“This enables PNG operators to stay in control of the association,” he said.

“However, Australian companies don't want to join on this basis, and the larger PNG companies, who shall remain nameless, won't support it because they don't want more operators coming into competition with them.

“We asked Kokoda Track Authority to help us get a volunteer to further develop our operational plan and funding proposals to send to Tourism Promotion Authority and AusAID, but KTA didn't want to help.

“They say they only want to assist an association that represents all operators.

 “This year, some Australian government projects along the track have become a concern to operators and the Australian operators decided they needed to quickly have an association in place to be the mouthpiece of trekking operators.

“Because of the long time it takes to incorporate an association, they decided to meet with KTOPA to find out if we could change our constitution to allow both PNG and Australian companies to be members with equal rights, and they also wanted the training and support programme for local operators to be scrapped from the operational plan, ie, they wanted to hijack the association for their own purposes.

“Max Kaso and I who are the interim committee would not allow this so they decided to set up a new association which will include Australian and PNG operators  but no special help for locals.

“Apparently, this will be announced soon.

 “Meantime, KTOPA will continue to pursue our goals separately, and we will soon be pushing the PNG government to provide some specific support to PNG operators.

“We would like to prepare a proposal for the PNG government to regulate the Kokoda trekking industry and limit the numbers of Australia-based operators and give more access and opportunities to local operators.

“For example, by legislation that requires all Australian operators to sub-contract their trekking logistics to a PNG company that is not a subsidiary of their Australian company, because if an Australian company registers itself in PNG it will still collect all its client payments in Australia and only transfer enough money for operational costs to the PNG subsidiary.

“This means the PNG subsidiary will operate on break-even basis only, will never declare a profit, and will never pay company taxes to the PNG government.

“On the other hand, a 100% PNG-owned company will more likely declare a profit and pay tax.”






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