Ten Tourism Champions were recognized at an awards ceremony and gala dinner at the Timor Plaza Hotel’s Panorama Restaurant on September 26th. The Turizmu Ba Ema Hotu Tourism Champions Awards were organized by USAID’s Tourism For All project, to give recognition to outstanding contributions to the tourism industry in Timor-Leste, by individuals, companies and organizations.
Members of the public were invited to nominate their Tourism Champions in an online poll, describing in their own words why their nominee deserved to win the award. 140 nominations were received. An adjudication panel scored the nominees according to a range of criteria: promotion and development of tourism, customer service, response to visitors’ special needs, showing the spirit of hospitality and observing the principles of sustainable tourism.

The winners were:

Anastacio Madeira Araujo – Timor Unearthed / Barry’s Place, Atauro / Dilicious Timor / Elfan Da Costa – Timor Fixer / East Timor Development Agency / Fernando Carvalho Gama – Taxi Tours / Gil Horacio Boavida – HASATIL / Marcea Exposto – Duty Manager at Discovery Inn / Pro Ema Restaurant School and Projeto Montanha.


Speaking after the awards, the winners shared their thoughts about the future of tourism in Timor-Leste in a video, which can be viewed by clicking this link:

See below for information about each of the winners, including the comments made about them by members of the public who sent in nominations.

Anastacio Madeira Araujo – Timor Unearthed

Anas started working in tourism in 2014 as soon as he left school, as a cleaner at a restaurant. He has since worked his way up in the industry, becoming a senior tour guide for Timor Unearthed, running educational tour programs for school and university groups. Last year, he was promoted to Operations Manager where his role involves preparing tour programs, training tour guide staff, networking and developing the business, and administration. He has worked with the Ministry of Tourism to provide basic tour guide training for 300 university students to prepare for the first-ever P&O cruise ship visits to Dili and also runs packaged motorbike tours for visitors who want to explore the island.

“… a beautiful singer and story teller, his warm, caring and beautiful manner made our trip to Timor-Leste one of the most rewarding experiences of a life time.”… “Anas assisted me and many of my friends in discovering the true essence of Timor Leste”… “He is a champion for Timor-Leste, full of information and enthusiasm. He shows the best of Timorese Youth”. 

Barry’s Place – Atauro

Barry’s Place is an exemplary community-based eco-tourism lodge in Beloi, Atauro, operating since 2005.

“Barry’s Place” is much more than just a hostel. Everything there bears the mark of respect for nature and a constant search for sustainability. The thermal comfort of the accommodations, provided by the use of natural materials. The entire structure is equipped with solar panels, avoiding the waste of energy. The collective dry bathrooms provide water savings, a very rare asset on the island of Ataúro. The gardens use plants adapted to climatic conditions, eliminating the need for water to be maintained. All waste is separated and recycled. Plastic waste has been transformed into new utensils such as vases and cups. Lina and Barry Hinton, their family and employees periodically clean the beach around the Pousada. And finally, Barry’s Place is responsible for generating nearly two dozen jobs”.

“Everything there bears the mark of respect for nature…a sustainable place of beauty that has brought repeat visitors from all over the world“

Dilicious Timor

The concept of Dilicious Timor is to reveal the delicious food of Timor-Leste which is rarely found in Dili and to contribute to local economy. Chef Cesar Trinito Gaio and his team use local products in their creative cuisine with the emphasis on environmentally-sustainable practices and the principles of green tourism. They have their own farm in Metinaro and an areca leaf eco-plate factory in Baucau, so that they can eliminate the use of plastic in presenting their food. Dilicious adds to the tourism experience by telling the stories of the food they serve, by taking visitors out to show them where it’s grown, gathering bush tucker with them and by involving their guests in preparation. For examply, they recently held a workshop to teach visitors the art of weaving katupa rice baskets.

“Cesar has a passion for promoting Timorese culture through his love of local foods” “The future of Timor-Leste relies on its young generation to succeed and Cesar is always keen to bring Timorese cuisine to the world. Throughout this journey, he has been able to demonstrate his cooking skills by traveling to places like in Australia, New Zealand, US, Japan and Europe. This business platform has a locally driven entrepreneurship value that has been seen to have an impact on the economy and also provides many Timorese youths from rural areas the opportunity to learn as well as getting on hands- experience in this sector”.

Elfan Da Costa – Timor Fixer

Elfan is more than a tour guide. He has over 9 years’ experience working in the tourism industry. His passion for tourism started when he became a driver in Bali while he was over there studying. After returning home, his focus was to continue a career in tourism in Timor-Leste and to assist in developing and improving the local industry where he could. Elfan holds a Bachelor of Business Degree in Tour and Travel Management and has worked in various roles within the private sector and Timor-Leste Government. In 2019, he founded the company Timor Fixer. He arranges tourism activities, and provides logistical support to visiting film and production crews. He works with international organizations and individuals to make their time in Timor-Leste easy and hassle free. He has helped to raise exposure of tourism in Timor-Leste, working with BBC, National Geographic, Sea Legacy and Channel News Asia to name a few.

“Elfan is an excellent ambassador for Timor-Leste who makes hosting international guests very easy. He has a full range of skills that make for a unique, but very personal experience.”….” If we are lucky enough to make it to Timor Leste again we will not hesitate in contacting Elfan. I have recommended Elfan to several friends traveling in Timor Leste and all got back to me with rave reviews saying that they have never had a more knowledgeable and passionate tour guide. How one single person can make such an impact is beyond me” 


East Timor Development Agency

ETDA is a leading agency in developing and delivering training courses in hospitality and tourism that meet international standards, with a curriculum including tourism management, administration, customer service, tour guide training and itinerary development, hospitality, food hygiene, workplace safety, languages, and pottery-making. Their training restaurant in Dili gives students the opportunity to gain valuable experience and it is a favourite with the expat community and local people alike.

“Thousands have been trained and thousands of happy customers have been served amazing food, traditional ceramics and tours”… “A feature of ETDA’s training organisation is its professional approach, high standard of training delivered through the range of training courses on offer. ETDA, a trailblazer in initiating and developing courses, is well known for its course graduates being in high demand from prospective employers”… “Most of the students who graduated from their center have worked in top tourism businesses, because of their exemplary customer service. ETDA itself has received tourists from around the world with special focuses on people in difficulty or with special needs. To help promote sustainability, ETDA prefers to use recyclable materials in its services such as using glasses from recyclable bottles, plates from palm leaves, small bamboos as straws, etc. With their commitment to create more qualified, customer-focused, result-oriented people to work in tourism industry, my vote is to ETDA”

Fernando Carvalho Gama – Taxi Tours

Fernando works as a taxi driver and tour guide. After completing an English conversation course in 2015, he was encouraged by his tutor to start offering tours. He developed his skills through experience and by 2018 he was selected to be a guide for Cruise Asia. He developed his own marketing materials to give to visitors he picks up at the airport and has found success by providing a personalised service to tourists keen to explore the country. His business has grown by word of mouth, and he has received glowing reviews from his customers.

“Fernando provided a personalised service as my driver and guide during my stay in Dili. He was always prepared to go the extra distance by assisting me with the language barrier and communicating on my behalf. I always felt safe and I could move around Dili under his care. He was prompt with his communication with me and always made himself available with his service. From taking me shopping or exploring Dili I could always count on him. He was always polite, respectful and helpful. I highly recommend him as a driver and guide.” … “He gave us a deep insight into East Timor and its history… he made us feel like a member of his own family …and inspired me to visit Timor again in 2021”… “He is certainly both a committed and smart young person… I strongly believe Fernando will indeed be the person who will change Timor-Leste for the better from a tourism perspective and be a motivator for the young other fellows to follow”… “He offered a coffee tour in Ermera showing the country side of Timor-Leste and the culture. As taxi driver, he always has a conversation with his international passengers, introducing Dili as capital, and giving information about food, religion, culture, history even road safety”

Pro-Ema Restaurant School

Pro-Ema is one of the country’s top restaurants, offering training and employment to vulnerable young women. They also have the chocolate factory where tourists can buy local chocolate and learn all about the Timorese cacao beans. Established in 2018, Pro Ema’s mission is to promote capacity-building and personal, educational, social and economic development for girls and young women living in underdeveloped communities in Timor-Leste, in order to strengthen their autonomy, raise their leadership and increase their employability. The organization regularly brings in top chefs from overseas to share their expertise with the young women who work at Pro-Ema, creating memorable cuisine and offering superlative service.

“I have travelled to every continent in the world, and never have I received such incredible hospitality as I did at Pro Ema. From the very first moment they received us, we were met with warmth, genuine care and big smiles. They represent the Timorese culture in the most beautiful way. I returned to East Timor for a second time and one of the biggest reasons was because of the love and hospitality I received from this team”… “A joint venture of social welfare with world class cuisine… what a great welcome card for tourists that visit Timor-Leste”… “Yes, their food is exceptional. Yes, their desserts are some of the best in the culinary world. But truly, their specialised care for every individual that enters their space is what sets them apart. They treat you as if you were the only person they need to cater to and that level of hospitality is unmatched. You will find no better or more fitting recipient for this Award. Pro Ema has gone above and beyond in championing the tourism of Timor-Leste, in heart and action!”

 Gil Horacio Boavida – HASATIL

The HASATIL group has pioneered sustainable, community-based agro-tourism experiences for visitors. Gil has worked at the environmental NGO Haburas Foundation, and in collaboration with the local community in Maubara in building community tourism project called Laloran Maubara. He set up HASATIL as an umbrella for NGOs that are actively working in the agriculture and tourism sectors. At HASATIL he organized a number of community tourism projects such as Ritabou-Maliana, and Knua Parapa laran Metinaro. He has also developed a community tourism project in Maubisse called Knua Hakmatek and a fish pond eco-tourism attraction in Ainaro.

“…Gil is an outstanding man…who is actively developing and promoting tourism. His work inspires many others to work towards grassroot transformation in rural areas .” … “He is really committed to developing more potential tourism areas and promotes young people as an important pillar for sustainable development in general and for the prosperity of the people in particular.” 

 Marcea Exposto – Duty Manager at Discovery Inn

After gaining her BSc Degree in Hotel Management, Marcea was selected to participate in a youth exchange programme in Tokyo – JENESYS – organised by the Japanese government. She is now one of the high-fliers of the Timorese hospitality industry, having matched her academic success with an in-depth understanding of hotel management and customer service, working her way through the ranks during her 10-year employment at Discovery Inn. Marcea is from Ermera – coffee country – and she is keen on promoting tourist excursions to coffee plantations, the subject of her degree thesis.

“Marcea is an exemplary role model for all in Timor-Leste’s hospitality scene and recognised as the face of Discovery Inn, which has hosted local and international dignitaries, heads of states, Nobel Laureates, and celebrities. Originally planning a career in diplomacy, Marcea put this on hold when she was asked to help establish the Discovery Inn. She excelled in this position and it has allowed her to become an ambassador of a different sort: meeting international visitors annually. Marcea is a consummate hostess whose hospitality is known to many. She ensures the hotel’s airport transfer vehicle is in top condition, equipped with cold face towels, local newspapers, and chocolates. She arrives each day with a handful of flowers for the front desk. She anticipates guests needs effortlessly. Details that make people feel at home and why I have said the hotel quality of service defies expectations. Marcea goes above and beyond her job description. She takes great pride in her role and is often complimented for the service she provides”. 

 Projeto Montanha – Aileu

Projeto Montanha is much more than a restaurant and guest house. It’s a training and education facility, a handicrafts production centre and shop. At the heart of the community in Aileu, Projeto Montanha puts its Christian principles into action to improve the quality of life of the people across the municipality, by promoting health, culture, income generation, environmental sustainability and emotional and spriritual development. It aims to remain financially self-sustaining, without depending on external resources for the maintenance iof programs, creating jobs with decent wages.

“The warmest welcome in Timor-Leste. The project supports young people, generating income and enabling them to operate professionally at the highest level.”… “The sense of community is very strong in the team. They make us feel very welcome” … “An amazing project making an impact in the community”… “A good little shop with souvenirs and art, the restaurant is very clean, they help many youths and they support some students by providing quality training outside Timor-Leste” … “We had a great meal at Projeto Montanha. The boys and girls are lovely and did all they could to to make us comfortable, even showing us around the place. I definitely recommend them as a tourist attraction in Timor-Leste”



Flights Resume from Dili to the Oe-Cusse Enclave

Reaching Oé-Cusse from Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, is possible in three ways: by land, sea and/or air. By plane is the easiest option with flights on Monday to Thursday and Saturday in the morning except Friday in the morning (while Sunday is no flight). It is a 35-minute flight where you can enjoy spectacular views of the island and Suva Sea and if lucky, see pilot whales in their migratory season. The cost of the flight is $40 USD for adult; $30 USD for children from 2 to 12 yo, and $50 USD for corporate/Adult. Alternatively, two ferries, the Success and Nakroma, come from Dili and arrive in Kitahara Mahata port in Oé-Cusse four days a week. Shipping is the main route through which the goods arrive in the region, and although it is a long journey (12 hours), the price of transport is affordable ($10 for Success and $8 for Nakroman without cabin, $40 with cabin). Finally, the road trip across Indonesian territory can be an excellent opportunity to explore both sides of Timorese island, but be careful with the timing of your travel as there is a one-hour time difference between the countries and the Indonesian border closes at 16;00 hours and Timor-Leste border at 17:00 hours. It is recommended to arrive at least one hour beforehand to make sure you have time to complete all the necessary paperwork. There is no requirement to complete immigration paperwork when traveling by plane or boat. However, currently the land border is closed due to Covid-19 pandemic.


In partnership with local businesses and the Ministry of Tourism, Commerce and Industry, USAID’s Tourism For All Project has launched a campaign to promote domestic tourism under the banner “Ha’u-nia Timor-Leste” (My Timor-Leste). The campaign aims to inspire the public to support local businesses by becoming tourists in their own country: eating at a favourite restaurant, taking a road trip, going diving or just enjoying a cup of local coffee made by an expert barista. People are encouraged to show their support by taking photos of their experiences, beauty spots, cultural and historical places and wildlife, using the hashtag #HauNiaTimorLeste when they share them on social media, to help get the word out to family and friends

The campaign was launched at a series of events to celebrate World Tourism Day, including a 5-day Domestic Tourism Expo with informative presentations from tourism associations and industry professionals, and a Tourism Fair, giving businesses the opportunity to offer special packages directly to the public.

Click on the link to see a video about the Ha’u-Nia Timor-Leste Tourism Fair:



While we cannot travel internationally during COVID-19, we can still experience the flavours of Timor-Leste. Visiting “origin” is the dream of many coffee professionals. Just an hour off the coast of Australia lies Timor-Leste, a young nation offering incredible natural beauty, rich history, and unique culture. Its “Explore the Undiscovered” tourism campaign beckons travellers to its rugged mountainous interior where coffee is grown by almost a third of the country’s households. Although the coffee industry is relatively young compared to others, it is one of Timor’s largest non-oil exports and plays a significant role in its economy. In partnership with ACTL (Timor-Leste Coffee Association), The Asia Foundation’s Tourism Development Program worked with BeanScene Magazine to feature Timor-Leste as a specialty coffee producing nation. Read about the exciting growth of the coffee industry at https://www.beanscenemag.com.au/timor-leste-a-rising-star/, best accompanied by a freshly brewed cup of Timorese coffee.

#exploretheundiscovered #timorleste #kafetimor #timoresecoffee

Source: The Asia Foundation/BeanScene Magazine

The second Dili International Film Festival (DIFF) was held in October 2020, as one of the few film festivals in the world able to cater to a live audience this year. The motto of the festival was “Adapting to Change”.

DIFF screened and hosted feature-length and short films, narrative and documentary, from international and local contributors and guests. The festival had a total of almost 100 entry submissions from both international and local filmmakers.

Screening locations were: Top Golf (Opening Ceremony), Fundação Oriente, Beachside Cinema, the Cultural Center of the Portuguese Embassy to Dili and Yayasan HAK. Cinema Lorosa’e, the mobile cinema, travelled to Laulara to screen a film dubbed to Tetun for almost 500 participants at Ego Lemos’ Perma Youth Camp.

Overall, around 800 visitors came to Fundação Oriente, 175 Timorese aspiring and established filmmakers participated in 4 workshops: two live classes: with Timorese trainers Rui Muakandala from Casa Produção Audiovisual (CPA) and Jhonie Borges (Animator) and two online classes with U.S. film professionals Dawn Valadez and Shana Hagan.

One of the online workshops, conducted by U.S. Film Maker Dawn Valadez

12 groups of Timorese Filmmakers participated in the DIFF National Short Film Competition and showed huge quality improvements from last year’s edition. In total 119 members and four LGBTI and Youth Organisations came together to celebrate DIFF Diversity with a Panel Discussion, based on the Brazilian documentary “Say My Name”.

More highlights: Dili Premiere of “Top End Wedding”, dubbed to Tetun, co-hosted by Australian Embassy to Timor-Leste with 150 guests; German Night with a screening of “Cherry Blossoms and Demons”, co-hosted by German Embassy Jakarta, with 100 guests; and a screening of “Zé Pedro Rock’n’Roll” and Happy Hour at Camões Cultural Center with 100 guests.

A total audience of over 350 people visited Beachside cinema for 6 film screenings.

Timorese filmmaker Francisca Maia won the DIFF Award of Honour 2020, for her outstanding contributions to the Timor-Leste film industry, and for her film “Músicas da Resistência”

Timorese filmmaker Francisca Maia (blue blouse, centre) won the DIFF Award of Honour 2020

Source: Dili International Film Festival

Photo Credits:  Dili Photography /  ruralphotography /  Timor Skyview (aerial view) /  Pixelasia

In light of the global coronavirus pandemic and border closures, Timor-Leste is unexpectedly experiencing a bump in people sharing and searching for fresh local destinations under the Ha’u-Nia Timor-Leste domestic tourism promotion campaign. As people are becoming frustrated and bored, they’re looking through social media to see places that can reignite the spirit of travel, and for some – ignite it.

Through a question and answer format, Agora Food Studio takes a look at how the next generation of young tourism champions are unlocking each other’s potential. Agora Food Studio who has been working with a range of partners throughout 2020 using two interesting pedagogical practices: peer-to-peer coaching, and building connections and relationships through a “community of practice”.

Why is domestic tourism important?

Domestic tourism accounted for 73% of total Travel and Tourism spending globally in 2018, according to research by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). Domestic tourists cannot be ignored; clearly they are an important driver of the overall tourism sector. The activities of domestic tourists create economic importance as the money spent on domestic tourism feeds back into the country’s economy; creating a multiplier effect that can grow a more viable and prosperous economy.

COVID19 has been the single greatest disruption to the global tourism industry. All countries are facing the same threat to the survival of its tourism sector. With no international tourists, governments are pivoting towards boosting domestic tourism. Australia and New Zealand provide excellent examples of this.

Timor-Leste can also do this, but the potential of domestic tourism is too often ignored. Yet it exists and continues to grow quietly, organically. We’re also seeing increased posts of domestic travel adventure by a younger generation who are: camping enthusiasts, climbing Mount Ramelau to celebrate Loron Nain Feto Ramelau in October, hardcore motorbike explorers traveling the island, new yoga fans meditating on Atauro or Jaco island or among coffee forests in Letefoho, smartphone photographers partying on the remote beaches of Atekru, day-travelers to Laletek Nanis Domin for selfies over Dili, or to Atauro’s Beloi Saturday markets for beach ‘street-food’ lunch ending with a bag or two of fresh harvested seaweed to bring back for the family.

Since COVID hit, we had a lockdown in Timor-Leste from March 2020. Since then the government has instated States of Emergency on a month-by-month basis. How has it been for tourism and hospitality businesses? What changes did we have to make to survive?

It has been a tough year. People can see that more than a few businesses have closed their doors completely, some of whom have been institutions with an incredible legacy in Timor-Leste’s tourism sector.

We have had to change our own direction completely. When the economy almost stopped, we had to stop too. We had no income for three months, like a lot of other businesses of course. We were all scared about what would happen to the business and to our team. We were lucky to have an incredibly supportive landlord. We took the time to breathe, take stock and find ways to remain creative and motivated. Most of our team travelled back to their childhood homes. They took some inspiring photos and videos about their traditional food and stories. We shared with each other what meals we were cooking and eating at home and used this as the basis for solving our immediate business problem. We had to move swiftly to depend less on our a-la-carte service and more towards healthy catering and selling Timorese food and drink products through supermarkets, reflecting the community’s preference to eat more at home.

For all businesses, cashflow is everything. No cashflow equals no business. Without bridging income you can’t pay your bills and salaries. Tourism businesses can’t wait for international tourists to arrive in (we don’t know) how many years’ time. We have to focus on domestic tourism for now. We were able (with the support and understanding of USAID’s Tourism For All Project) to change our initial 2020 business plan They allowed us to see how we could support and up-skill our team and other small tourism businesses and entrepreneurs. We wanted to strengthen the relationships within our community. To work with the community of practice around us on becoming a COVID-resilient business.

The early period allowed us time to see opportunities; the latent energy in the young generation. Also, we saw that the world was moving online even more than before and this meant we could participate in digital coaching courses with people from different countries. Despite the internet challenges in Dili, three of our team took an international coaching course at first. We learnt how to learn, how to listen deeply, and how to coach the best out of others. The impact for them, and for the rest of the Agora team was immediate with one of our young leaders Paula Torres transition from coachee to coach in the area of digital marketing. (you can listen to her experience of learning about coaching here https://www.aidforaidworkers.com/podcast-124). We wanted to share coaching methods with others so they could benefit too.

We started looking ahead towards peer-to-peer coaching. We focused on emerging leaders within the tourism sector who are capable of self-reflecting, keen to learn more, and most importantly open to sharing their professional experiences and knowledge. In addition to Paula, we started working with Turizmu Ba Ema Hotu Tourism Champions award winners  Elfan Dacosva (Timor Fixer) and Anas Madeira (Timor Motorbike Rentals and Tours, Timor Unearthed).

 What is a coaching approach and why is it important in the tourism sector?

 Coaching is all about listening. We have to learn first what other people want, what worries them and how they want to achieve their goals. As coaches we can only ask questions that guide a person to better understand who they are, to develop their ability to sense and respond to changing circumstances, in order to achieve what they want. So we asked many questions.

One of the most important questions we asked each other was “if you were a tourist in Timor-Leste, what would you want to experience?”

What did you learn about domestic tourism through the coaching?

1) Domestic tourism exists and it has been growing organically over the last few years. It is being made more visible and stronger through the #hauniatimorleste campaign.

2) A dynamic digitally-savvy younger generation of Timorese are more keen than ever to visit different destinations within their own country. Through coaching we have realised many young Timorese are in the early stages of being a tourist. Let us harness this energy, bring them together through the ‘community of practice’ that already exists to share what they love about their favorite tourism destinations and why, and how to promote it to their friends and friends. An example of how to build a community of practice is to normalize exchanges between different tourism businesses, for example bringing guesthouse cooks to Dili to understand what it is like to be a tourist, and transfer this experience to providing for tourist needs back in home villages.

“This really one of important learning for young generation like us for our future business. Because though sharing story and used social media the world will know our business. If it possible keep continue with this activity to help to promote Timorese Tourism” – Paula Torres.

3) Framing is key. The most profound realization was that all of us can be tourists. “Everybody was shocked to hear that we can be tourists. We thought that tourists are only foreigners. But we now know about domestic tourism. That as young generation, we need to know our own country and promote what we love – this is the best starting point for growing tourism” – Paula Torres.

Because of language, the framing has been that tourists = foreigner. Agora is working hard with these tourism champions to change this. We can all be tourists and contribute to building a key element of the local economy.

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land;
it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”

― G.K. Chesterton

What did we learn about ourselves through the coaching?

“I have learned about how to be more organised and how to prepare (making plan A and plan B for example); how to be active, to listen, have fun and consider one another and co-ordinate with team and participants, take note of interesting ideas and questions from participants” — Paula Torres

“I learned that each coaching interaction cannot be replicated – every coaching session must be curated and created from scratch – duplication does not work and therefore I am learning the art of bringing uniqueness to each session” — Maeve O’Brien

What are some novel techniques we are using to build a tourism “community of practice” and why?

A community of practice is a “group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” This definition reflects the fundamentally social nature of human learning.

Sparking Joythe process of learning needs to spark creative joy because this is when genuine knowledge transmission takes place. The connections between the learners and the different ideas become cemented. This is why we feel the “community of practice” approach works. It is about learning together with other people passionate about doing tourism. During a Digital Marketing Exchange held in September while the content was focused on participants telling their own stories of purveyors of quality tourism products and services, the focus of the Exchange was having fun, being curious and acknowledging that only by making mistakes can you take better photographs or do better Facebook posts for example. For these realisations to occur, we cannot have teachers teaching and students sitting down passively all day pretending to listen. Rather we have as many facilitators as possible creating spaces for people to share their stories, both as tourism workers and also as tourists (as mentioned above, some participants only just realized that they were also tourists). After just one day of the digital marketing exchange, tourism industry participants were able to take more compelling smart-phone photos for social media.

Choreographing collaboration – we look for opportunities to bring people together and learn about each others’ businesses. These interactions can be a window from which potential future collaborations may (or may not) can be seen. For example, during the process of developing video content for tourism and hospitality businesses to be COVID-safe, we brought together young Timorese from four organisations – Timor Lodge, Linivon Restaurant, Timor Fixer and Agora Food Studio, together with the filmmakers Pixelasia. They not only starred in the videos themselves but they contributed to the videos’ scripts and got to know each other and their businesses better over the course of a day’s filming.

On the set of one of the videos produced to share information about food hygiene and measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (Photo: Ann Turner/USAID’s Tourism For All Project)

Eating and drinking coffee together – sitting down over a good shared meal with a Timorese flavour, also helps to bind this community. As we have all experienced, eating together can be a pleasurable diversion from the serious learning and business issues of the day. It is important here to make sure that the food is presented on shared plates and that people are seated together facing each other and not hiding on the side of the room talking to the people they already know. We make small changes to the atmosphere like upbeat music, colourful décor and cheery service staff to lighten the mood and make the guests feel fully welcome. Then you have a safe space for people to share their life stories with each other. If the food and coffee we serve during ‘trainings’ and ‘workshops’ are not good, then we can’t expect the conversation to be much better.

What has given you the most joy from these activities and why?

“I meet different people from different places like Centro Sover-Botir Matak, Timor Lodge Resort, Hato-Builiko Guesthouse and Timor Adventures. I can practice more listening and learn from them as well. They really want to learn and it’s a really new thing for some of them, but we got feedback from them most of them are excited to be part of this. I feel thankful to have coaching with Mana Maeve about being a facilitator, because she really understands, is open minded, professional and she guides me as a facilitator; to people have to be step-by-step and make sure they understand. She has many techniques to use I think really help me. I really feel comfortable coaching with her and I also learnt a lot about Facebook posting with her.” — Paula Torres, Agora Food Studio

 “My interaction with Paula has been the best part of the coaching and has given me the most joy. Paula is a natural coach and teacher. It was a pleasure to work with her and witness her appetite for learning and her ability to apply tips and techniques she acquired during our sessions. Not only did she pick up these tips easily she cleverly adapted them to bring out the best in her coaching classes with her students” — Coach Maeve O’Brien, Mascontour

What have you learnt about others during the coaching?

“They like to work in groups, they need to have fun, they don’t want only one person to talk until the class is finished, and they also want to contribute themselves to the knowledge in the room” — Paula Torres, Agora Food Studio.

“Not to force them into the coaching sessions and to let go if they really do not see the benefit. They enjoy the level playing field and need to be reminded often that I am not a teacher” — Coach Maeve O’Brien, Mascontour.

“Normally people want somebody else to fix their problems but they don’t realise that it is better for them to seek a coach with experience, who can help them to resolve the problem for themselves. During the coaching course I learned that it is not always good just to help people, without given them the opportunity for them to help themselves first.” – Elfan Dacosta, Timor Fixer

Source: Questions and answers were provided by Agora Food Studio’s Mark Peter Notaras and Paula Torres, Mascontour’s Maeve O’Brien and Timor Fixer’s Elfan Dacosva.

40 marine science students from the National University of Timor-Leste had the opportunity to study the renowned coral reefs and marine biodiversity of Atauro island in a training program conducted by Compass Diving. The program, which was supported by a grant from USAID’s Tourism For All Project, aimed to develop the students’ understanding of the underwater environment and sustainable marine tourism, through field experience.

The 6-day program was divided into two sections: in-water activities and learning sessions. For many of the young scientists, it was their first experience of snorkeling in the ocean and to see the creatures they had been studying in their natural habitat.  Each student was also given the opportunity to take part in a closely-supervised scuba dive – an experience described by one participant as “a dream come true” – and a whale-spotting excursion.

The theory presentations covered a wide range of topics related to marine tourism from  fish and coral identification and conservation to the potential and challenges facing the whale-watching and dive tourism industries.

Students from the Departamento de Pescas e Ciencias Marinhas of the Universidade Nacional Timor Lorasa’e visiting Boneka de Ataúro, a community-developed business created to serve as a source of alternative income for women from the island of Ataúro – Photo taken by Dircia da Costa (Compass)

The connections between marine tourism and conservation were examined, focusing on possible collaborative links between marine tourism activities and marine conservation efforts. The presentations encompassed topics such as the development of marine protected areas partially-funded by tourism activities and how tourism can contribute to offset any commercial practices that might pressure fragile marine ecosystem. Participants also had the opportunity to visit tourism businesses and the communities that depend on local fisheries for their livelihoods.  When visiting Beloi market, the students took note of how many vulnerable species were part of the catch and developed an awareness of the importance of sharing information with the local fishermen about the need to protect the reef, which is important both to maintain fish stocks and also for the tourism industry.

They also paid a visit to Vila-Maumeta village and three establishments that were developed as community projects. Participants engaged in a discussion on the importance of embracing the local community when trying to develop tourism in any location. The concept that community interactions could, sometimes, leave memories just as lasting and fond as the tourist activities themselves was brought up for reflection.

One of the other subjects covered by the program was ocean pollution. The students participated in a beach clean-up activity on the village of Beloi, and discussed the negative impacts pollution has on the marine environment, such algae blooms and decreasing quality of seafood, among other factors. As part of the workshop, students identified the components of the rubbish that was collected on the beach and considered simple individual actions to avoid contributing to marine pollution.

Program leader Cassio Schumacher said: “The participants’ energy, determination, focus, dedication and sheer awe with the in-water activities has been a great, great pleasure to witness and allows us to share the hope of these very same students to possibly pursue a career in the infant marine tourism industry of Timor-Leste or in activities related to conservation of the incredibly biodiverse marine life of the Ombai-Wetar Strait”.


Timor-Leste is one of the world’s hot spots for migrating cetaceans, which pass through every year in October and November, and its waters are also home to resident populations of dolphins, pilot whales and other marine mammals. Schumacher said that one of the highlights of the program was spotting a whale after a snorkeling session: “The joyful moments, the expression of astonishment upon seeing a whale surfacing close to the boat. It was a great opportunity to further strengthen the bond between them and the ocean surrounding their country.”

Nelvia Ana Maria Freitas Guterres (DPCM-UNTL student) on her first-ever whale-spotting trip – Photo taken by Amir Haron Syakib (Compass)

The program will have an enduring legacy in the continuing commitment of the students to sharing their experiences and passion for conservation with the public.

Remigio D. Boavida Freitas, a student originally from the district of Baucau –  a place where reports of illegal shark and turtle fishing are common – commented: “It was great to learn more about the importance of sharks to our ecosystem and even how important they can be for tourism as visitors would be happy to see more sharks in our waters. When coming back to my district, I will try to talk with the community leaders in order to bring this information to the people from my village.”


On the final night of the field trip, Deonisio Barreto Viana Rangel summed up his experience: “Having the chance to participate in this program and learn more about tourism, our oceans and also to feel part of this environment is something we appreciate so much. Knowing that such opportunities don’t come around all the time, we hope to continue spreading the messages about the importance of tourism and conservation to our friends and family.”

Source: Compass Diving









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