“Speed Networking” Aims to Boost Tourist Arrivals in Timor-Leste

Eight Australian travel agents had the opportunity to “Explore The Undiscovered” in Timor-Leste on a recent familiarization trip, organized by Market Development Facility (MDF). USAID’s Tourism For All Project (TFA) held a “speed networking” event for the agents at the end of their travels, so that they could meet a range of Timorese tour operators and hoteliers to get to know them on a personal level and find out more about the tourism products on offer.

MDF, which is supported by the Australian government, worked in collaboration with the agents’ group Travel Managers and Airnorth to arrange the trip. The Tourism For All Project brought in a variety of travel operators: hotels, dive centres, restaurants and companies specializing in trekking and cultural tours. Before the “speed networking” event, TFA also held a coaching session for the Timorese participants, most of whom had never experienced a travel trade show before.  The event was hosted by Pelican Paradise.

The purpose of the familiarization trip was to showcase the reopening of Timor-Leste following the COVID-19 pandemic. The travel agents were selected based on their interest and clientele’s fit for Timor-Leste and they were taken on two tours: one focusing on marine tourism in Atauro and another cultural tour to Balibo, in Timor-Leste’s coffee country.  They also enjoyed a “city experience” in the capital, Dili.

Speaking after the event, MDF (Country Director Timor-Leste) Drew Johnson commented: “It was amazing to see the passion and preparedness of the local operators: very inspiring”.

Darwin-based Personal Travel Manager Lisa Malnar was the only agent in the group who had visited Timor-Leste prior to the COVID lockdown and she was excited about resuming tours to the country. She said that all of the agents were impressed by the “speed networking” event.

“Timor-Leste will be the next hot destination for those that want to take the road less explored. We all felt an overwhelming sense of pride and passion from those involved in the tourism industry and that came across through all interactions we had. We loved learning about the different businesses during the networking event and felt the engagement was positive for not only the local operators but also the agents attending. We can’t wait to start promoting Timor-Leste as destination to Australians. Get ready Timor – your time to shine is coming!”

The Timorese participants also expressed their enthusiasm. Osaias Soares is the President of ATKOMA, the community-based tourism association on the island of Ataúro, a hot spot for marine tourism. “From ATKOMA, we would like to say that the event was fantastic as it helped to connect tourism and hospitality businesses in Timor-Leste with tour agents from Australia and that will help to boost tourism in this country, and particularly Ataúro island, post-COVID-19. The agents’ suggestions helped us to overcome our weaknesses in order to grow better businesses. After this meeting, we believe that there will be more tourists visiting Ataúro”.

Manuel Napoleon is a Dili-based operator specialising in overland tours. His company, Manny’s Timor Tours, hopes to develop cross-border itineraries for visitors looking to visit both Timor-Leste and Indonesian West Timor. He felt greatly encouraged by the “speed networking” session: “I just want to convey my gratitude and pleasure in being part of this event, to both USAID and MDF. I am sure events like these don’t come along very often and these opportunities will surely strengthen Timor-Leste’s tourism industry, which has yet to achieve its full potential. Those couple of hours are the result of hard work from USAID and MDF in supporting local enterprises, and for me personally, it was a great experience in being able to show case what Timor-Leste and Manny Timor Tours has to offer. We hope to be part of a bigger picture in the future”.

 

TFA and ATKOMA recently instigated a collaboration with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) to promote light aircraft flights from Dili to Ataúro.  Since the flights were offered in April, they have carried 220 passengers, 50% of whom were tourists and expatriate residents. The organization’s Country Director Nick Hitchins also participated in the “speed networking” event: “I thought it went well. I think it’s immensely useful to have a session like this to help local operators understand what kind of expectations international tourists and agents have. All in all, it was a great event and with a really encouraging, positive vibe”.

The Timor-Leste government is keen to increase the number of tourism arrivals as part of its economic strategy to reduce dependence on the oil and gas industry.  In a debriefing session after the “speed networking” event, several of the travel agents mentioned that had proved difficult to access comprehensive information about tourism attractions and facilities online. TFA has been working actively to enhance the private sector’s capacity for e-marketing, whilst strengthening the impact of the national tourism promotion website. Last year, TFA also launched a travel app, Go Timor, in collaboration with private sector partners, which was singled out for praise by the Travel Managers Group.

 

All photos credit to Ann Turner/ USAID’s Tourism For All Project