This project has investigated the potential and constraints to developing cultural heritage tourism opportunities as a pathway for sustainable development for local communities in the Pacific. Two case studies were selected: Samoa and Madang, Papua New Guinea (PNG). A total of five field trips were completed. In August 2017, an initial scoping visit to Samoa established a research partnership with the Centre for Samoan Studies (CSS) at the National University of Samoa (NUS). This was followed by a second visit in December 2017 to interview local village communities with CSS about their views on cultural heritage tourism – asking questions about what their understanding of the positives/negatives of developing these types of activities may be, and what they would need to make a success out of such a project.

In February 2018, we visited Madang to conduct a two-day workshop on cultural heritage tourism that included national and local stakeholders such as the National Museum and Art Gallery of Papua New Guinea (NMAG), Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority, Tourism and Anthropology staff from Divine Word University, National Research Institute, Madang Visitors and Cultural Bureau, and Melanesian Tourist Services.

In March 2018, a final trip to Samoa was completed that involved interviewing both cultural heritage and tourism stakeholders, including the Samoa Tourism Authority, Savaii Samoa Tourism Association, the Cultural Division of the Ministry of Sports, Education and Culture, Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, Museum of Samoa and local tourism providers.

In June 2018, we returned to Madang to interview local communities with the assistance of staff from NMAG and Divine Word University, as well as to complete follow up interviews with cultural heritage and tourism stakeholders in Madang and Port Moresby. Follow up visits were completed to Madang in November 2018 to present transcripts and results back to the local communities, and to Samoa in August 2018 to present our results at the Samoa Conference IV, hosted by NUS.

Pottery and balangut (canoe) decorations in Bilbil Village, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea

The results of our study have been complex due to the very different nature of the two case studies. Brief results can be summarized as follows:

Local communities supported community based tourism ventures, as tourism provides important economic gains for community groups which could be fed back into the community to support schools, medical needs, and other community activities. In particular, tourism was seen by younger members of the community as a way to access employment while also being able to remain in the village.

Local communities were less aware of the concept of cultural heritage tourism. While many tourism operations incorporated cultural heritage to different extents within their tourism products, it was important to note that the term ‘cultural heritage’ was unfamiliar which is not surprising considering it is very much a western concept emerging from the heritage sector and academic studies. Once communities were informed as to what cultural heritage was, they agreed that this was an important avenue for future growth.

Advantages of cultural heritage tourism activities are that, compared to other types of tourism it requires low levels of investment in capital and infrastructure, and builds upon an already known asset – their own cultural heritage. Cultural heritage tourism was therefore seen as an industry which could be readily and sustainably incorporated into communities’ current livelihoods. As cultural heritage is often associated with a particular place, it also encourages tourists to visit rural and remote communities, thus allowing these communities to earn economic opportunities within their home location. Other advantages were seen as the opportunity to share culture and the ability to strength and continue cultural traditions.

Participants at Madang workshop on cultural heritage tourism, February 2018

At the same time, numerous constraints were noted, including a need for further investment by government at all levels to provide finances, resources and training to the communities who need assistance with infrastructure (including basic community infrastructure around transport, health and education), capacity building, product development, marketing and guide training in order to design engaging, authentic and, from a long term perspective, sustainable tourism experiences.

Opportunities and constraints, however, vastly differed between the two case studies and show the essential need to complete in-depth studies on the local situation before developing cultural heritage tourism opportunities. For example, Madang (and PNG in general) already has an international reputation for developing cultural heritage tourism, therefore tourists visiting here seek out these opportunities at cultural festivals and villages. Constraints to tourism in Madang (and also wider in PNG) are more likely due to concerns around security and crime, perceived health risks, lack of tourism infrastructure and high cost of travel. In contrast, Samoa is seen by tourists as an affordable and relaxed beach holiday destination rather than for its cultural heritage, therefore it needs to target marketing to broaden visitor perceptions, improve cultural heritage offerings and continue to market these as a point of distinction compared to other South Pacific destinations.

Opportunities also vastly differ between the two case studies. Madang has a wide range of intangible heritage opportunities, such as handicrafts, singsings/festivals, village visits/homestays, but is limited in tangible heritage opportunities, with the exception of WW2 heritage. Samoa, on the other hand, in addition to having a large intangible heritage offering, also has potential tangible heritage opportunities, including an extensive landscape of monumental architecture that includes star mounds, walkways and platforms, as well as specific sites such as Pulemelei Mound (the largest ancient structure in Polynesia). Few of these sites are available for visitation by tourists currently, yet their addition to the tourism offerings for Samoa would increase the diversity and uniqueness of experience for tourists visiting Samoa.

There are also other local considerations to address in developing cultural heritage tourism opportunities, such as community structure and how this will affect governance issues and the overall implementation of projects. For example, projects in Samoa will need to consider fa’a Samoa principles, while projects in Madang need to consider clan relationships. Other factors that will come into play include the level of support from government, how tourism and cultural heritage authorities and bodies are structured in-country, the specific legislation and regulations involved in protecting cultural heritage and implementing tourism, as well as the wants and needs of the specific communities involved.

Based on the above findings, two in-country reports (one for Madang, one for Samoa) are being prepared which detail the specific results for each case study. Whilst recommendations differ due to the nature of each the case study sites, a shared recommendation is the need for advocacy and training for cultural heritage tourism amongst local communities and tourism stakeholders/providers. More awareness of the potential of cultural heritage tourism is vital for community resilience and the sustainable development of this industry in the South Pacific in the future.

National University staff and students standing on a cleared star mound, Samoa