Tourism is relatively a new sector for Timor-Leste. In 2018, the total number of tourist arrivals in the country was less than 11,000. Australia is currently the main source market for tourists to Timor-Leste. Despite Australia’s closeness, Timor-Leste has not been able to realise the potential of the Australian tourist market. There is a lack of understanding of how Australians travel, especially to similarly remote Asia and Pacific destinations like Timor-Leste, which limits how well Timor-Leste can competitively promote itself to the Australian market. So, Market Development Facility (MDF) in Timor-Leste commissioned a tourism market analysis with a focus on the Australian market.
The analysis focused on who might be most interested in visiting Timor-Leste, their interests, and how best to make them aware of what Timor-Leste has to offer. A consumer and trade market research was conducted to identify ‘most likely’ target segments and activate a Marketing Action Plan to benefit the local tourism industry. The profile of current Australian visitors includes Darwin, which is the largest source market, accounting for one in four (25%) Australian holidaymakers. ‘Going to the beach’ was the most popular activity planned by Darwin visitors, while ‘Cultural experiences’ ranked highest for Melbournians. Visitors who came to dive were great advocates for Timor-Leste; 97% would recommend the destination to friends and family (TAF’s 2018 Survey of Travellers to Timor-Leste). The report terms the target audience as ‘Timor-Leste intenders’, a custom segment created by matching the location and socioeconomic status of respondents to the Prospective Visitor Survey, conducted in February 2020, to RDA’s geoTribes socioeconomic segments. Based on the research, a ‘Timor Leste intender’ audience was defined as the summation of the Crusaders and Independents geoTribes segments. They fall under the age group 25 to 34, young professionals, career-oriented, singles or couples. This segment is heavy internet users that are also big on social media, but less likely to be attracted by mass media.
Interviews were held with more than 20 travel agents and operators in Australia. Almost all of them were keen to know more and promote Timor-Leste. The reason they don’t promote Timor-Leste is that they do not have any information and that is why it is not very popular among tourists.
There were some interesting responses when the Australians were asked what they think about Timor-Leste. Some of the words used for Timor-Leste were “uncrowded, beautiful people, stunning scenery, interesting local culture and a new exciting, not very touristy destination.” Generally, all trade partners interviewed were keen to obtain more information about Timor-Leste, to be kept updated and were interested for any trade family opportunities, especially those who have never visited before. A common feedback comment received from tourists when they returned from Timor-Leste was that they were “very surprised” by the destination – how beautiful the country is and how lovely people and culture are.
Overall key selling points include; amazing diversity of stunning scenery, pristine marine life, untouched and authentic, interesting history, and a “new” off the beaten track destination.
There were some interesting highlights from the analysis:
• 1.61 million Australians would like to visit Timor-Leste.
• The agents in Australia that have not sold Timor-Leste, generally have no knowledge about Timor-Leste or what it offers its visitors.
• Trade-ready program is vital to support the local industry to develop skills and Australian products.
• Perceived dangers of war and unrest are top of mind for a small, yet significant proportion of potential visitors.
• Timor-Leste intenders are heavy internet users. Thus, social media and marketing plans should be focused on exciting, educating, and engaging content for this market.
MDF has now presented the findings to tourism sector stakeholders. Timorese tourism stakeholders will benefit from a better knowledge of what experience Australian tourists want and how to influence their decision-making. It is also important to understand the priorities and incentives of tourism businesses in Australia to promote Timor-Leste, and to identify potential partnerships for tourism recovery and Timorese organisations that could help boost tourist inflows from Australia.
While the damaging consequences of COVID-19 on global tourism were not foreseen, the timing of this project provided an opportunity to plan a unique schedule of marketing actions. The focus now should be on growing the local industry’s trade contacts, what Timor-Leste has to offer and the capacity building in preparation for mainstream marketing actions when travelling restrictions ease ‘Post-COVID’.
As part of the next steps, a working group with industry representatives and the Government of Timor-Leste will be created who will work with partners in Australia to implement a set of marketing activities focused on trade relationships. When Timor-Leste is ready to welcome tourists again, this information will be vital to attracting more tourists and for the recovery of the tourism sector. You can find a summary of the findings on MDF’s website: https://marketdevelopmentfacility.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Timor-Leste-Australian-Market-Summary-2020.pdf
Market Development Facility
Market Development Facility is an Australian Government-funded multi-country initiative which promotes sustainable economic development, through higher incomes for women and men, in our partner countries. It is implemented by Palladium in partnership with Swisscontact. MDF’s two priority sectors in Timor-Leste are agriculture and tourism, with some activities in other sectors such as manufacturing. MDF is working with a range of businesses and other organisations to grow tourism in Timor-Leste, especially through ideas related to destination marketing. This includes dive operators, the hotel owners association, tour operators, and the Ministry of Tourism.