Recent Issues with Kokoda Operator and Kokoda Track Authority of Papua New Guinea Highlight Importance of Responsible Tourism Practices

Recent events involving a lone Kokoda Operator and the Kokoda Track Authority of Papua New Guinea (PNG) have highlighted the need for Responsible Tourism Practices when conducting tours on the Kokoda Track.

Let’s be clear: the Kokoda Track operators are commercial companies that profit from selling trek packages on the Kokoda track, which is situated in Papua New Guinea. It is essential to recognise this before anything else, and that ALL operators are making an income off Papua New Guinean land and its people. What we share is a common bond of amazing comradery and undeniable mateship that was forged under the most testing of conditions between the Papua New Guinean people and the Australian Forces. We also share the common pride of our ancestors and what they were able to achieve together in the battles along the Kokoda.

Creating Employment on the Kokoda

Creating Employment on the Kokoda

However, for too long, tour operators have been able to influence the direction of the Kokoda industry and tend to forget that the Kokoda is situated in a completely different sovereign nation to Australia. This nation is Papua New Guinea, and is one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world. Operators forget this and when they come in with one blanket idea or policy they are left bemused as to why the systems don’t work. That is why a body like the KTA is essential, to allow for landowners to be major stakeholders in the Kokoda Track, and to allow an entity to address landowner interests in the commercial operation of the Kokoda.

In 2023 to address some issues facing the industry, the Kokoda Track Authority implemented strict reforms requiring all operators to be PNG-compliant and registered with the Investment Promotion Authority of PNG. In addition, all operators must also hold an IRC certificate, indicating that they are paying relevant taxes to Papua New Guinea. This was a strong leadership direction taken by the KTA, which addresses the first of many issues of foreign trekking companies operating in PNG and the lion share of profits remaining offshore in Australia.

As a result of these regulations, most of the Kokoda industry is now fully compliant, with all bar one operator recognising the KTA as the governing body. During the recent Kokoda ANZAC peak period, most operators were happy to abide by these regulations, recognising their legal obligation to comply with PNG laws.

It is now more critical than ever for those looking to trek the Kokoda in the near and distant future to do their part in supporting Responsible Tourism Practices when visiting the Kokoda Track. When choosing a Kokoda operator, it is crucial to investigate what they are doing for the people of PNG, are they operating responsibly and can they prove they are meaningfully connected to the people along the Kokoda Track. In addition, tourists should research the difference between Australian-led and PNG-led tours and ask themselves is this Kokoda experience going to be any different.

Additionally, investigate the social footprint of these operators and be wary of possible “greenwashing” of terms like “landowner relationships” or “local partners”. Is your operator actively playing a leading role in prioritise Responsible Tourism Practices and are  they committed to supporting the PNG community. The recent issues with the Kokoda Operator and the KTA serve as a reminder of the importance of Responsible Tourism Practices, the need to prioritise the interests of local communities and the preservation of the present-day Kokoda communities. By choosing operators that support responsible tourism practices, tourists can positively impact the Kokoda community while enjoying the rich history and culture of the Kokoda Track.

When choosing your Kokoda operator we hope you take the necessary steps to ensure that they are actively conducting themselves in a meaningful, responsible and sustainable manner and always priotising the well being of the the PNG communities above all else.

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