An entry in the Crocodile Prize
Award for Tourism, Arts and Culture Writing
“YOU have good mountains, beautiful scenery, good weather and many attractions which would pull people here but what you lack is a guesthouse.”
The scene: Sirunki, Laiagam District, Enga province. The speaker: A lone German traveller. The listener: Yasowa Kome, local councillor. The year: 1990.
This conversation with his guest prompted Kome to start a guest house even though Sirunki was a ‘no-go zone’ at the time due to tribal warfare and constant armed hold-ups at Aipanda, on the border of Laiagam and Wabag.
Despite these problems, Kome converted his two-bedroom family home to a guest house. After developing it to a standard lodging facility, he named it Yaskom Resort Hotel.
The hotel is now a major tourist destination in the province and the venue for official receptions, seminars, workshops and social gatherings. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill prefers to stay there on official engagements in the province. And it’s where the PNG Rugby League board conducted its annual general meeting.
More recently, in March, Australian High Commissioner Deborah Stokes launched the PNG Alumni Association there.
But for 10 years not a single tourist went to the hotel. Kome nearly gave up after developing the property, which had taken every last penny. I’ll let him take up the story:
“One day in 1990, a German tourist, a medical doctor, came to Sirunki unexpectedly. He took pictures of the lake and admired the beautiful scenery and cool climate. In the afternoon he searched for a place to spend the night.
“But he was an expatriate and we had reservations about inviting him to sleep in our village style houses with pigs roaming around. You know, it was not conducive for him, one so used to modern comforts.
“I am a mechanic and I had a small two-bedroom permanent house. I offered him one of the rooms where he stayed for a whole week.
“One morning he said: ‘You have good mountains, beautiful scenery, good weather and many attractions which would pull people here but what you lack is a guest house. On my way here from Wabag, I saw no guest house along the way.’
“I told him we don’t have a guest houses at Sirunki, Laiagam, Porgera, Kandep or anywhere else in these western parts because no tourist ever comes here. But to demonstrate what the people could offer, I asked people of Tukusanda village to stage a singsing especially for my German friend. He took many pictures and went back to Germany.
“The good doctor implanted a seed in me to start a guest house. So I renovated my two-bedroom family home to a guest house and developed it. I spent all my money hoping another visitor would come along. But none came for almost 10 years. I panicked and nearly gave up hope.”
But there was still hope for Yasowa Kome. Governor Peter Ipatas won the 1997 national elections and immediately formulated a policy to promote tourism and economic activity in the province. People were encouraged to establish guest houses.
Kome felt reluctant to approach the governor because he had not supported him during the elections. But he was desperate to get a licence so he wrote a letter. Ipatas didn’t respond. Three years later, after a third attempt, Ipatas asked him to see him at Irelya village.
After some scolding, Ipatas granted the coveted licence. This was followed by a grant of K100,000 from the provincial government. Kome accepted the gesture as a blessing and continued to improve his property.
“I saw the governor in March 2000, and up till now the evidence of the blessing he bestowed on me is the result you can see today – this hotel, a result of Ipatas’s vision to see more tourists come to this province,” Kome said.
The hotel was officially opened by Moses Maladina, then Minister for Rural Development and Implementation, on 12 August 2011.
Kome was left speechless when Maladina presented him with a surprise gift of K200,000. At last his perseverance to change the perception of a forlorn area torn apart by tribal warfare and transform it to a safe destination for visitors had been recognised by the national government.
The Minister also presented K200,000 to the Enga Tradition and Transition Centre and K50,000 to the annual Enga Cultural Show staged that same weekend in Wabag town.
The following year, the then member of parliament Philip Kikala launched the Lagaip-Porgera five year district development plan. One of its aims was to boost tourism activity in his district and stage the first ever West Enga Cultural Show in Laiagam, a 10-15 minute drive from the new hotel.
Canadian Rev Herb Sachn, a former missionary, was the first visitor after the hotel was officially opened and he was soon followed by eight American tourists. Then the floodgates opened to an influx of visitors.
Every year during Australian rugby league State of Origin matches, footie-mad folks flock to Yaskom Resort Hotel to watch their favourite game on the big screen in the public forum area or book into one of the cosy rooms to enjoy the game in privacy.
These days the hotel features 22 self-contained rooms with electric heaters and hot water, two car parks, five standard rooms, a public bar, a spacious and fully kitted dining room, conference facilities that can accommodate 100 people and TV sets in all self-contained rooms.
It is a shining example of how one man can transform a forlorn area torn apart by tribal war into something that not only brings in a regular income but peace and harmony among his people.
It is where total strangers can enjoy the natural beauty and culture of the people like the German doctor did 25 years ago.