Growing Timor-Leste’s Tourism Economy – The Barriers and Opportunities for Tourism Investments

1 Nov 2017, by Laurien Maerman

In the lead up to the 2nd Timor-Leste International Investment Conference on 14-15 November 2017, we reached out to Todd Wassel, Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Timor-Leste. He gives us an insight into his upcoming presentation, the current barriers and opportunities for tourism investments and the country’s potential.


Could you give us a better insight into the current barriers and opportunities for Tourism Investments?

Both Timor-Leste’s barriers and opportunities stem from the same condition, it is a frontier new destination. While there is a lot of work that still needs to be done to develop the tourism sector, there is the opportunity to invest in an emerging destination. Timor-Leste is blessed with a unique history in the region, with a vibrant culture, and incredible natural assets. A recent study by Conservation International showed that the island of Atauro (just off the coast of the capital city Dili) has the highest biodiversity of coral systems in the world.


Timor-Leste has some of the highest quality coffee in the world, with a variety of opportunities for high elevation hiking connected to cultural experiences and local agriculture. A recently approved national tourism policy, “Growing Tourism to 2030: Enhancing a National Identity,” lays out a clear path and commitment by the government to expanding the tourism sector with achievable targets and an emphasis on sustainability and community benefits.


As the Country Representative, how do you think we can continue to grow the Timor-Leste’s tourism economy? Where do you see potential?

The tourism economy is multi-sector and requires the development of linkages across government, industries, and communities. The greatest potential for growing the tourism economy is engaging all the necessary actors, industry, tourism agencies, government departments, and anyone with an interest to partner, share information, and work together to achieve the national tourism policy.

The greatest potential is to take advantage of what is available at the moment, cultural, nature based, and adventure tourism. The tourism sector can take advantage in the immediate term on the focus of Indonesia to increase its annual tourist arrivals to 20 million by 2020, and to entice those visiting Bali to travel east. Capturing a small part of the intrepid traveller market that is looking for unique experiences beyond Bali will go a long way to meeting Timor-Leste’s targets and expand the tourism economy. With the launch of Timor-Leste’s official brand and slogan, Explore the Undiscovered, now is the right time to market to these travellers and start increasing arrivals.


Why do you think it’s so important to be part of the Timor-Leste Investment Conference and what are you most looking forward to?

We are interested in providing the most accurate and up to date information available to support sustainable policies. However, we recognise that more information needs to be collected by all stakeholders, private-sector and government alike and shared. This conference provides an opportunity to gather more information and build strategic partnerships for the sustainable and inclusive development of Timor-Leste.


At the upcoming Timor-Leste International Investment Conference, Todd Wassel will discuss what the lay of the land looks like for tourism in Timor-Leste, what is on offer, and why we haven’t achieved greater investments in promoting demand. It will highlight the vital role of information in generating demand, investments, and interest, and the role partnerships can play gathering that information. Finally, the presentation will offer a glimpse of the “Timor-Leste Tourism Barometer”; A new publication that aims to quantify Timor-Leste’s progress towards meeting its goal of growing the tourism economy.


After the successful 2016 event, the Timor-Leste International Investment Conference returns to Dili on 14-15 November. The Conference is a landmark event for this growing nation to showcase its investment potential across a range of industries – petroleum/gas, mineral exploration, quarrying, civil construction, coffee and agriculture, tourism, transport and logistics and much more.

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