Tourism in Timor-Leste remains in its infancy as the country has done very little to promote itself on the international stage and suffers from a lack of air connections. USA agency USAID is now helping Timor-Leste to set up a new strategy as highlighted by US tourism expert Peter Semone, Chief of Party of the USAID Tourism for All project in Timor-
For Peter Semone, Timor-Leste must have a realistic approach to its tourism development and implemented strategies. “The country is still in its tourism infancy despite the fact of being an independent nation for 17 years, tourism has seen slow progress. The country recorded slightly over 116,000 foreign arrivals in 2017 at Dili International Airport while the first half of 2018 shows a total of 51,200 international arrivals, a contraction of 8% over the previous year.
Indonesia represents the bulk of all arrivals with a total share of over 50%. Other relatively important markets are Asian countries -beside China and Indonesia-, Australia, Portugal and China PRC. All of these countries have a share in total arrivals that fluctuate between 5% and 10%, according to data provided by Timor-Leste Ministry of Tourism.
According to Semone, there is a few measures to be taken to give a new impulse to Timor tourism. “A major obstacle is access to Timor-Leste as air transport options remain extremely limited. They are only a handful of flights linking Dili to Bali, Darwin and Singapore. And the recent acquisition of Sriwijaya Air by Garuda Indonesia is eliminating a competitor to Bali. Fares are already skyrocketing on that route,” he says. ” Timor-Leste government must look at alternatives to open the island to tourists and discuss with new airlines. LCC such as AirAsia or Lion Air would be ideal to open up the destination to a larger public,” stresses Peter Semone.
Inside the country, USAID tourism will work out to convince the government that tourism is a top economic activity “on pair with agriculture or oil,” adds Semone. ” I want to stress that tourism is the base to improve the service industry and the culture of service in the country. It is also an excellent factor to foster the development of a private sector of SMEs but also a way to raise environmental consciousness for locals,” he explains.
A first initiative will be the set-up of Timor-Leste Marine Tourism Association, which would group private and public entities with a task of identifying marine tourism objects, set standards and also taking responsibility to implement and enforce sustainable criteria in marine tourism. “Generally public/private partnerships would be the right way to develop a proper tourism product. For example, the historical port of Dili is due to move to another free port area. Through a PPP, it would then possible to create a small waterfront as it does already exist in the USA, Australia or in Singapore or Malaysia to inject life into the area and turn it into the true tourism heart of Dili.” describes Peter Semone.
An important task for USAID tourism will also be to raise awareness among locals over the benefits of tourism. ” We are looking at creating an internal awareness campaign to bring excitement among locals and involve them into the creation of tourism products.
Timor-Leste has much to offer for tourists. Marine tourism is a top asset with a pristine coast, a high number of untouched islands with a possibility for diving or snorkeling or even also for whales watching. Trekking is also possible in mountains surrounding Dili, the capital. We look at focusing on culture as Timor-Leste is a blend of Asian, Melanesian and European influences. There is a very strong catholic faith in the country due to the long presence of Portuguese until 1975. This provides a unique flavour and history to Timorese culture,” describes Semone.
And finally there is the excitement for international visitors to discover one of Asia last frontiers with a sense of pioneering a new destination.
The goal of USAID Tourism in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism is already well defined: “we target 200,000 international tourists by 2030 who would generate 150 million US dollars while 15,000 locals could work in the tourism industry,” tells Peter Semone. The official integration of Timor-Leste into ASEAN would be a first step towards a worldwide recognition of the country’s nascent tourism industry.