The Kokoda Track Authority began issuing trek permits for those who wanted to trek across the track in 2001. Prior to this only a handful of diehard adventurers used to trek across it – probably not more than 50 per year. Now it’s over 3700 per year.
This rapid increase in has created an urgent need for the fledgling Kokoda Track Authority to address some emerging issues which will impact on the sustainability of the new eco-trekking industry.
With more than 3700 trekkers in 2006 it is important that the Board of the PNG Kokoda Track Authority review their operations to ensure the historical and environmental integrity of the track is not compromised; that village communities receive shared benefits from the industry; and that the safety of trekkers is ensured.
This article will address some of the issues that should be addressed by the Board to ensure the medium and long term viability of the track as an eco-trekking destination is not compromised.
The KTA has the potential of being a pioneering national model for the development of a sustainable eco-tourism industry in PNG, as they have an income stream independent of government and aid agency funding and are representative of:
• Clan leaders and landowners/clan leaders from along the track;
• Local and provincial government;
• the National tourism body; and
• relevant stakeholders
To fully realize their potential as Board members it will be necessary for them to receive proper training in regard to their corporate obligations according to relevant PNG laws and regulations. They need to be aware of their moral obligations in regard to their own people by ensuring benefits are equally shared amongst clans along the track. A code of conduct should be developed to ensure the Board retains the respect and trust of clan leaders and landowners. This code should be included in the legislation applicable to the Kokoda Track (Special Purpose) Authority.
A reputable PNG accounting firm should be engaged to:
• develop the necessary procedures for the effective operation of the KTA;
• draft a code of conduct for Board Members;
• train Board Members and executive staff in the executions of their duties; and
• draft legislation for incorporation into the appropriate Act of Parliament.
• Perform a management audit each year
Council of Clan Leaders
Some concerns from people along the track are that the Board of the KTA is not representative of their clans or their views. They believe Members of the Board spend too much time in Port Moresby and not enough time on the trek.
The establishment of a ‘Council of Clan Leaders’ as an advisory/feedback body should be explored. The first step would be to register the names of all the clans along the track and to identify the respective leaders.
The Board should meet with this body twice yearly to brief them on their plans and activities and to seek their feedback on issues in regard to campsites, environment, village protocols, educational/health developments and village cooperatives, etc.
Trek Operator Registration
Trek operators should be registered by the KTA. As a suggestion the registration should include a requirement that registered trek operators:
• pay their guides/porters/carriers a minimum daily rate as determined by the Authority;
• pay campsite owners a minimum fee for trekkers and guides/porters/carriers;
• only allow guides/porters/carriers to carry a maximum backpack weight;
• provide guides/porters/carriers with individual sleeping bags and mats;
• provide return airfares to either Port Moresby or Kokoda for guides/porters/carriers at the completion of their trek;
• ensure the group leader is qualified in First Aid;
• ensure each group has a VHF radio and a satellite phone for safety purposes;
• establish emergency evacuation procedures which indemnify the KTA from the cost of the operation; and
• ensure each operator has an appropriate public liability insurance policy which indemnifies the KTA from any potential claim by a trekker suffering a permanent injury or disability.
All current trek operators should be consulted as part of the process in formulating a registration system.
In the longer term trek permits should only be issued to registered trek operators or to individuals who agree to abide by the conditions established by the KTA in regard to the engagement of local carriers, the payment of campsite fees and safety.
The trek permit system needs to be further developed.
Most trek operators schedule their treks well in advance and trekkers make a long term commitment (annual leave, family arrangements, etc) in response to these schedules. Trek operators have to commit to airline tickets, hotel bookings, campsite bookings and detailed logistic planning for their treks.
The KTA should require trek operators to submit trek itineraries with their applications for trek permits. The KTA should then liaise with trek operators and landowners where double bookings for campsites are apparent. The KTA could liaise with guesthouse/campsite owners to move groups to nearby sites to alleviate any potential problems.