My respects to His Excellency Dr. José Ramos-Horta; representatives from the Ministry of Tourism, Commerce and Industry and the Government of Timor-Leste; the Dili Institute of Technology; my USAID colleagues; distinguished speakers and guests. Good afternoon.
I am happy to join you today for the second International Conference of Emerging Tourism Destinations. I would like to thank USAID’s Tourism For All Project, the Ministry of Tourism, Commerce & Industry, and the Dili Institute of Technology for working together to organize this event. This is the latest effort by USAID’s Tourism For All Project to assist Timor-Leste in achieving its own objectives for tourism. The United States is committed to supporting inclusive and sustainable tourism growth and reaching the goals set by the Government of Timor-Leste, including:
- boosting tourist arrivals to 200,000 annually by 2030;
- increasing employment in tourism to 15,000 jobs; and
- generating $150 million in annual tourism revenue.
Timor-Leste already has resources to develop its tourism sector. From the most biodiverse waters in the world, to the majestic Mount Ramelau and lush green landscapes – the country rich in natural beauty. In my view, the country’s greatest resource is its warm and welcoming people – many whom I have met during my travels across the country. Timor-Leste also has a compelling history and is full of diverse cultural sites and traditions that I am sure – with the right care from the government, community members, and the private sector – would attract more visitors. As part of its cultural heritage, Timor-Leste has many attributes that could help develop faith-based tourism as a vehicle for economic diversification.
This event marks the first time for Timor-Leste to host an international conference on faith-based tourism development. In the past few weeks, the country also hosted an ASEAN Regional Forum workshop and Pacific Partnership, the largest humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise in the world. With even more people on the way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Popular Referendum, the world is paying more attention to Timor-Leste and its vast potential. This conference provides the Timorese people with another opportunity to learn from the experiences of others from around the world. The shared knowledge and technical capabilities will be crucial for Timor-Leste to better design, implement, and manage its faith-based tourism development.
A key element of the U.S. strategy for the Indo-Pacific region is to support strong, market-based economies and encourage sustainable development. It is this kind of tourism development that will help move Timor-Leste along its journey to self-reliance so that it eventually is able to solve its development challenges on its own. In addition to USAID’s Tourism For All Project, the United States supports the development of Timor-Leste’s tourism sector in other ways. Although it is not a part of the Pacific Islands Forum, Timor-Leste is a part of the Pacific Islands Tourism Professional Fellows Program. Launched in 2017 by the U.S. Department of State in partnership with the East-West Center in Hawaii, the program supports economic development by increasing the capacities of Timorese tourism professionals working in the public sector, private sector and civil society organizations. And while it is not yet a full member of ASEAN, Timor-Leste is a part of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) – the U.S. Government’s signature program for youth leadership development in the region. Nearly 1,000 Timorese youth have already joined the program and like their neighbors, they possess a strong interest in issues related to tourism development. In fact, two Timorese YSEALI members traveled to Laos in March 2019 to participate in a regional workshop on sustainable eco-tourism. After returning from the workshop, they shared their knowledge and experience with thousands more people in Timor-Leste as part of a two-month social media campaign to promote socially responsible business practices.
These efforts and today’s conference clearly show that the United States and Timor-Leste both view tourism development as a priority for economic growth. On behalf of the United States, I congratulate you for organizing this important event. I look forward to hearing more about all of the lessons learned. Thank you very much.