How do we grow the Tourism sector in Timor-Leste, a land offering incredible beauty, culture and history? This was the critical question raised by 20 hoteliers in Timor-Leste as they sat together at the 2017 Tourism Symposium. From this meeting, a commitment was made for the operators to join forces and move forward with an ambition to create a flourishing Tourism sector in Timor-Leste that significantly contributes to the country’s economy whilst improving the livelihoods of its citizens.
Since then, the hoteliers have together formed the Hotel Owners of Timor-Lorosa’e (HOTL Association) which has delivered a number of programs aimed at facilitating sustainable tourism growth. These activities include targeted tourism marketing, improved access and connectivity to Timor-Leste, sharing data and industry insights as well as hospitality training and knowledge sharing. Within only a few years of operation, HOTL Association has built strong partnerships with government, private sector partners, donors and community-based tourism operators across the country to promote Timor-Leste as a destination and represented the nation at several Tourism Trade Shows across the region – Kupang, Bali, Darwin and Sydney.
Despite significant gains, the COVID-pandemic has presented an almost insurmountable challenge for Timor-Leste’s tourism sector. The global disruption of air travel, closure of state borders and restrictions on the movement of people have been successful in containing the spread of the virus, however in doing so it has brought the Timor-Leste’s tourism industry to a standstill. A study conducted by The Asia Foundation on the economic impact of COVID on the tourism sector, found that tourism-related businesses in aggregate have been operating at just 23% of their pre-COVID level. Almost half of businesses that depend on international travellers have closed or curtailed their operations.
With improved vaccination rates in Timor-Leste and the region, we are now seeing improved air connectivity with a key source travel market Australia, through new flights connected by both QANTAS and Air North. Similarly charter services to Indonesia and Malaysia create opportunities for international tourism to once again return. As the region now starts to open, there is hope that the country’s tourism economy will recover and in response to the changing tides, the HOTL Association have also been refining their strategy. HOTL Association’s Chairman, Mr. Sam Aluwihare said in the recent members meeting “that whilst times have been tough, we have an opportunity now to stand by one another and be “Stronger Together” as we navigate through this crisis. The Association will continue to support the sustainability of its members and the industry by increasing tourism activities through the launch of tourism marketing and content creation campaigns, delivering COVID travel safe training and seminars to operators and for the first time extending membership to other tourism operators such as airlines, tour / dive operators, food and beverage operators in order to enhance tourism customer journeys and launch new and innovative tourism products into the market.”
HOTL Association continues to believe that tourism is a key pillar to developing a diversified and sustainable economy in Timor-Leste. It is through perseverance, dedication and strong partnership that we can achieve our goals of a prosperous future, not only for the businesses that comprise Timor-Leste’s tourism industry, but for citizens and communities who will also be ‘stronger together.’