Opportunities for investment in multiple sectors, with a particular emphasis on tourism has been presented at the inaugural Cambodia – Timor-Leste Business forum entitled “Tourism and Trade for Sustainable Development”.
The event which was held on October 21 at the Sofitel Hotel had a number of distinguished speakers from both countries including the President of Timor-Leste Jose Ramos-Horta, as well as the Cambodian Minister of Tourism H.E Dr Thong Khon among others.
There were also several members of the private sector from nations present, particular from within the tourism industry. The all-day event focused on two key areas, collaboration in tourism and in developing trade between the nations.
To read our interview with President Jose Ramos-Horta click here.
Timor-Leste invited investment into its tourism sector
Both sides spoke about the benefits of tourism to their respective countries, with the main point of interest from an investment point of view being inward foreign direct investment (FDI) into the tourist sector of the visitors.
Currently Timor-Leste is the least visited country not only within ASEAN, but also the entire region. In 2010 they received 42,000 arrivals, which rose only marginally to 52,000 in 2019.
According to Timor-Leste’s Minister of Tourism Akanjo da Silva this was a key area they wished to pursue in order to diversify the economy telling the audience: “We want to raise visitor numbers to 200,000 by 2030, with visitors staying for an average of 5 days, employing 15,000 people and bringing in around $150 million to the economy.”
The Timorese economy is currently dominated by exports of oil and national gas, which has led to a huge sovereign wealth fund, but also the common disease of over-reliance on one industry and the dangers that presents. This Da Silva said was one of the key reasons for wanting to diversify in general, but particularly into tourism.
Why do so few people visit Timor-Leste?
The delegation was keen to point out the many positives that Timor-Leste has to offer tourists, which include pristine beaches, islands, snorkeling, fishing and diving, With another key pull being how few people visit, thus giving it the untouched angle, something being embraced with the tourist slogan “Explore The Undiscovered”.
Some of the reasons for lack of visitors boiled down to two key areas. Firstly difficulty and expense in getting to the country and secondly infrastructure.
As things stand one can only get to Dili by flight from Darwin, or Bali which can be as much as $700 return from Bali and more so from Australia. This thus keeps its severed from the so called “Bamboo Trail”.
There is also the lack of infrastructure Dili is currently having a few hotels built such as the Hilton, but in real terms it technically has only 186 residences offering around 2,500 rooms in the whole country. For context Cambodia had 15,758 venues that offered rooms in 2020, with up to 265,744 rooms available according to statistics from the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism.
Despite having these rooms, there were scant options for budget and even medium travellers within the capital, and few, or even no options in some of the smaller towns.
This had not only put some people off, but had provided problems for those that made the journey with Lindsay Campbell who is traveling to the country in December telling Cambodia Investment Review: “I could not find affordable hotel accommodation, so ended up renting someone’s house. There is also a lack of things to do in Dili and very little information on what you can do outside of the city”.
This was something the minister also acknowledged, as well as a lack of indigenous travel agents, with most tours to the country being arranged by outside, or specialist travel agents, many of which marketing it as an “off the beaten track” or wuerky destination.
To read more about exploring a Timor-Leste tour click here.
Areas of investment for Cambodian companies in Timor-Leste Tourism
As has been stated by many Timorese politicians the country is extremely keen to learn from the Cambodian experience and in particular collaborate with regards to the training of staff. There were though potentially many other areas of collaboration, particularly with regards to the infrastructure on the country.
On this Da Silva stated: “There are enormous opportunities for hotels, food and beverage enterprises as well as tourist resorts”.
He went to add about the potential for enterprises taking advantage of the marine life offered, whale watching, cultural tours, as well as the ever expanding volunteerism market, something very active in Cambodia and an industry that was worth an estimated $173 billion in 2019.
To read more about how Timor-Leste is keen to follow Cambodia’s lead in developing export industry click here.
It was though perhaps in the resorts and real-estate arenas that might prove most enticing to investor with the Timorese delegation boasting that the country has as much as 800 km of untouched coastline, with much of it available for development.
Interestingly as well there also seemed a genuine willing from both sides to take things to the next level, with the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between both sides on strengthening aviation cooperation, something which may lead to subsidised direct flights, but also heavy interest from the private sector.
It was announced during the event that the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents (CATA) among others were planning a research trip to Timor-Leste, as well as discussions on other areas of cooperation.
The issue of the direct flight may well be the chicken and egg element though. Will investment push the need for flights, or will flights give the impetus for investment? We will have to wait and see.