It’s about access: tourism in Timor-Leste
By Michael Rose The potential importance of tourism to Timor-Leste has been discussed since before its independence in 2002. Clichés about the half-island being ‘untouched’ or a ‘tropical paradise’ aside (it is far more interesting and complex for either term), its mountains are spectacular, its coral reefs world-class and its diverse landscapes and cultures a draw for adventurous people everywhere.
And yet, thus far, the visitors have not arrived in large numbers. In the March quarter of 2017, Timor-Leste received around 30,000 visitors, up 12.4% on the previous year. This data needs to be taken with a grain of salt – many of these visitors, half of whom were from Indonesia, would have been travelling for business or family purposes rather than tourism as such.
One partial explanation for this is likely an image problem. For her 2016 PhD at Swinburne University, Sara Currie surveyed 316 Australians who had never visited Timor-Leste. One, who commented, ‘I don’t holiday in war zones’, conveyed an attitude that was fairly typical.
Efforts by outside actors to facilitate the development of tourism in Timor-Leste have mostly focused on countering this perception. The nation’s official tourist website, set up on behalf of its government by the Australian government funded Market Development Facility, does an excellent good job of showing what the country has to offer.
Ultimately, however, foreign funded or managed activities designed to promote Timor-Leste, though well intended, are of limited use without serious initiative on the part of local actors to address basic issues relating to transport and visas.
Three events that have occurred over the few months are relevant in this regard.
The first is that, on 16 April 2019, the then interim Minister of the Interior, Filomeno Paixão, announced that from 1 May visas on arrival would no longer automatically be available for purchase …read more