Ambassador Kathleen Fitzpatrick Remarks at USAID’s Domestic Tourism Gala Dinner

My respects to

  • HE. Mr. José Lucas do Carmo da Silva, Minister of Tourism, Commerce and Industry of Timor-Leste
  • HE. Vice Minister for Community Tourism Inácia da Conceição Teixeira
  • HE. Ambassador of Portugal Manuel Gonçalves de Jesus
  • HE. Ambassador of Indonesia Shat Sitorus
  • HE. Ambassador of New Zealand Phillip Hewitt

Good evening everyone. It is a pleasure to join you to celebrate World Tourism Day and recognize individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to tourism in Timor-Leste. I look forward to the announcement of the 2020-2021 tourism youth ambassadors and tourism champions! This will elevate Timor-Leste’s efforts to promote tourism in this beautiful but undiscovered country.

This has been a challenging year for the whole world. We continue to face the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and its financial impact on the entire world. I am deeply impressed with Timor-Leste’s success in preventing a domestic spread of the virus and I urge us all to keep the health and safety of all Timorese as our number one priority.

The United States has supported Timor-Leste’s efforts to combat COVID-19, including $2.4 million in support. At the U.S. Embassy in Dili we continue to develop innovative programs that strengthen Timor-Leste’s health infrastructure, support local workers, and source locally made hygiene products. For example, we recently provided funding to local women to create thousands of masks which the Ministry of Education distributed to school children around the country.

This domestic tourism program is another example of adapting to our programs to meet today’s challenges. The U.S. Government’s USAID Tourism for All Project began in 2018 with $9 million dollars. Tourism for All directly supports Timor-Leste’s own goal of substantially increasing inclusive and sustainable tourism growth. USAID has worked closely with the Ministry of Tourism to adapt this program with a new emphasis on domestic tourism. We also work with other development partners here such as New Zealand, Australia, UNDP and the EU. We share the same goals – to promote Timor-Leste’s competitiveness as an international tourism destination while preserving its unique environmental and cultural heritage.

The Tourism for all Project has brought together public-private partnerships to support some of Timor-Leste’s most important tourism attractions, such as Cristo Rei. It worked with the prominent US-based international environmental group Mission Blue to declare the beautiful and bio-diversity rich waters of the Ombai-Wetar Strait a Hope Spot. This designation highlights Timor-Leste worldwide. Tourism for All also worked with the Timorese government to elevate Tais to a UNESCO World Heritage designation.

The project works closely with the Ministry of Tourism on Timor-Leste’s tourism website as well. Tourism for All, within the motto of “Timor-Leste Discover the Undiscovered” is also working with the tourism industry and local businesses to promote domestic tourism and the hashtag “Hau-nia Timor-Leste.” These are all important steps during this time where international tourist travel is effectively at a standstill. It’s good that Timor-Leste is using this time well to build up its tourism assets.

This program is another excellent example of how U.S. and Timorese goals align. A key element of the U.S. strategy for our inclusive Indo-Pacific region is to support strong, market-based economies and encourage sustainable development. At the Embassy we do this in a variety of ways. Through programs such as USAID’s Tourism for All and Avansa Agrikultura projects we work to provide Timorese with the tools they need to improve small business and connect to new markets. We also develop young entrepreneurs through many exchange programs, scholarships, and professional development workshops. We are very proud of our Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative, YSEALI and its members – young Timorese innovators, scholars and entrepreneurs working for the good of their communities and country. Also, Pacific Islands Tourism Professional Fellows Program develop the capacity of tourism professionals on exchange tours to Hawai’i.

The United States and our like-minded partners invest in developing Timor-Leste’s private sector because we know how important the local economy is to the success of Timor-Leste’s journey to self-reliance. Many of you here tonight are leaders in Timor-Leste’s private sector, and I encourage you all to think about the important role you play in developing an inclusive and open economy that is led by Timorese.

I would also like to take this opportunity to highlight the upcoming Indo-Pacific Business Forum in Vietnam in late October, which can be joined virtually. This forum will bring together government and business leaders from the United States, Vietnam, and across the Indo-Pacific to discuss energy and infrastructure, the digital economy, market connectivity, health and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and U.S.-Indo-Pacific partnerships and commercial opportunities. This is an opportunity for Timor-Leste’s Government and business leaders to connect with regional initiatives that support job growth and high standards of economic development.

This week’s focus has been on developing Timor-Leste’s domestic tourism. You here tonight have been working on this for many years. I applaud your efforts. By expanding access to the natural and cultural beauty of Timor-Leste you are improving the lives of both local people and visitors. We hope that soon the world will be open again to tourists. And that through your work, Timor-Leste will be ready for tourists to have a great experience here – in terms of lodging, restaurants, tours and site visits and of course diving and snorkeling. When tourists return after their positive experience, they can be influencers – posting on social media to encourage others to Explore the Undiscovered – what we know here as “Hau-nia Timor-Leste”—my Timor-Leste, and our Timor-Leste.

Thank you.