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)