2022, Report Promoting Sustainable Tourism Futures in Timor-Leste by Creating Synergies between Food, Place, and People |

Situated approximately an hour’s flying time north of Darwin, Australia, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, is one of the world’s youngest nations. Timor-Leste is geographically a small country comprising approximately 15,000 square kilometres of the eastern half of Timor Island, a small number of offshore islands and an exclave situated on the northern coast of West Timor. Timor-Leste is home to just over a million people and has one of the youngest populations in the Asia-Pacific region (median age 17.4 years; Government of Timor-Leste, 2019). After centuries of colonial administration and decades of hostile occupation, Timor-Leste became a sovereign, independent nation in 2002. However, despite its rich natural resources and significant economic, health and education gains since 2002, Timor-Leste remains classified by the United Nations as a ‘least developed country’ and continues to face the myriad of challenges associated with this.

In 2014, nearly 42 percent of the citizens of Timor-Leste were living in poverty (World Bank, 2020). In 2018, Timor-Leste ranked 131 out of 189 countries and territories on the Human Development Index, which assesses long-term progress on life expectancy, education and per capita income. There are also numerous urgent gender concerns, including pervasive gender-based violence, high maternal mortality, and significant gender gaps in labour market and local governance participation (United Nations Development Program, 2019). When employment fell to 89.6 percent in 2010 (from 91.5% in 2004), women and rural areas were most affected, with the employment rate for women falling 5.3 percent compared to 0.2 percent for men (Ministry of Finance, 2010). Gender inequality is a significant obstacle to socio-economic development and needs to be addressed as an imperative for Timor-Leste’s sustainable development.

Organisations: The Asia Foundation Authors:

September 2019, Report Strategic Tourism Marketing Plan for Timor-Leste. The Key Source Market of Indonesia. |


The Asia Foundation’s assigned task to create a Strategic Marketing Plan for Timor-Leste in the Key Source Market of Indonesia provided an opportunity to explore the many niche market attractions of Timor-Leste; asses the current situation and challenges to growing the Timor-Leste tourism industry; and propose a list of specific marketing steps and recommendations to accelerate the National goal of making tourism the lead economic sector.
While data on the total number of actual annual international visitors to Timor-Leste can vary and sometimes appear contradictory, whichever data source is used it’s clear that the overwhelming majority of foreign visitors to Timor-Leste come from Indonesia.
Based on the synergistic effect of close proximity, shared borders, a communal and sometimes troubled history, and a commonality of language – all these factors portend that Timor-Leste and Indonesia, and in particular Timor-Leste and neighboring West Timor, will continue to share a common fate as regards their tourism futures.
The fact that the leading source of visitors come from Indonesia and nearly all of Timor-Leste’s visitors enter the country through an Indonesian gateway city (excepting air passengers via Darwin on Air North), means it can be persuasively argued that Timor-Leste’s ability to grow its tourism sector depends to a great extent on cooperation with its almost “all-embracing” Indonesian neighbor.
In the course of researching this study, a wide range of current impediments that are slowing or preventing the creation of a robust National Tourism Industry in Timor-Les- te were identified that, if satisfactorily addressed with the recommendations presented herein, will very quickly boost arrival numbers to an extent that will see the official goal of 200,000 foreign visitors by 2030 easily surpassed in the early years of the next decade.

Organisations: The Asia Foundation Authors:

2021, Report
2020 ECONOMIC IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON MSMEs and Timor-Leste’s Tourism Sector

Over the course of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic had an unprecedented global impact, with the death toll surpassing more than one million by the end of the year. Many regions of the world continue to report rising infection numbers, and this is even the case in countries where infection numbers and deaths were declining. Also, the global recession, as well as local containment measures have had a serious impact on domestic economies.

Organisations: The Asia Foundation


2020, Report
The Asia Foundation publishes report on the outlook for aviation and the tourism industry in Timor-Leste, in light of the COVID-19 crisis

Situated on the southeastern periphery of Southeast Asia and endowed with unspoiled and exquisite natural attractions, Timor-Leste is a magnet for adventuresome tourists. Leisure travelers injected roughly 23.2 million much-needed dollars into the country’s economy in 2019, and success in capturing a larger share of Southeast Asia’s robust tourism market would make a significant contribution to the nation’s development.
Tourism is relatively labor intensive, and with the right mix of products, services, and supporting infrastructure it could bring widespread economic benefits and create jobs for a burgeoning youth population. The National Tourism Policy has a stated goal of 200,000 tourist visits per year by 2030, which would energize the petroleum-dependent economy, but the harsh reality is that costly airfares, poor connectivity, and inadequate airports have kept this goal out of reach.

With the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, aviation operations have now been reduced to relief flights to repatriate citizens, emergency medical flights, and deliveries of urgently needed medical supplies. The resulting financial impact throughout the aviation industry has been severe.

Healthy airlines are particularly dependent on reliable cash flow. The International Civil Aviation Organization estimates that the world’s airlines have lost 213 to 257 billion dollars in income since the beginning of the crisis. The general picture is that some airlines have already gone out of business, while others are being restructured or just holding on by a thread. Staff have been laid off, fleets have been pruned, aircraft orders have been cancelled, and less profitable routes are being eliminated.

The airlines that emerge from the global crisis will be smaller and will be focused on survival in a weak market environment, and this, of course, includes operators that directly or indirectly serve Timor-Leste. Timor-Leste is a small market on the periphery of the networks of foreign airlines, and if it is to win a place when air service is restored, it must show operators an attractive value proposition that fits with their scaled-back plans.

A forthcoming analysis by The Asia Foundation, Covid-19 and the Alignment of Timor-Leste’s Aviation and Tourism Strategies, argues that Timor-Leste must seek bilateral or regional travel agreements with like-minded countries that have achieved similar success in controlling the virus and have the capability to manage future outbreaks. With just 30 recorded cases, Timor-Leste is among the most successful countries in dealing with the pandemic, positioning it to offer itself as a partner in a “travel bubble.” Australia, for example, is a low-risk country that accounted for almost 48 percent of inbound travelers to Timor-Leste in 2019. The business communities in Australia and New Zealand have been working with airlines and aviation authorities to reopen travel between the two countries as part of a “Pacific travel bubble” that could be extended to other Pacific island nations. The Cook Islands and Fiji have been monitoring the progress of this Pacific travel bubble, and Timor-Leste would do well to start making preparations for such an arrangement. (Click on this link to read complete article:

Click on this link to read the report in full: https://asiafoundation.org/publication/covid-19-and-the-alignment-of-timor-lestes-aviation-and-tourism-strategies/ )

(Source: The Asia Foundation’s Gobie Rajalingam with Paul Hooper)

Organisations: The Asia Foundation

Authors: The Asia Foundation’s Gobie Rajalingam with Paul Hooper

2018, Policy Papers
Timor- Leste Tourism Barometer 2018

In support of next steps, this Tourism Barometer has been developed to provide a
situational analysis that guides tourism development in the country. It is critical that
there is wide participation in the development of The Barometer by public and
private stakeholders. Consultations have already been held with both the 7th and
8th Constitutional Governments, and two Timor-Leste Tourism Symposia were held
in October 2017 on the topics of tourism partnership and destination marketing.
It is envisaged that The Barometer is a living document and will therefore require
ongoing consultation among stakeholders to absorb refinements and encourage
continuity. Ideally, The Barometer will become a guiding document for any future
tourism-specific public-private partnership arrangements that may be established,
such as a Tourism Authority of Timor-Leste (TATL) or similar.

2014, Report
2014 Survey of Travelers to Timor-Leste

The development of an international tourism industry is crucial if Timor-Leste is to diversify avenues for economic growth, and reduce its reliance on oil. The Government of Timor-Leste’s Strategic Devel- opment Plan identifies tourism as one of five sectors critical to the country’s economic development and one that can spark private sector industries that earn export dollars. Despite this, there exists a current dearth in available data relating to traveler experiences that could otherwise inform those responsible for policy formation.

Organisations: The Asia Foundation

Authors: Gobie Rajalingam