Secretary of State for Vocational Training and Employment Julião da Silva;
Distinguished panelists and guests;
It is my pleasure to open this half-day forum on public-private partnerships to grow tourism in Timor-Leste. USAID’s Tourism For All Project has organized a busy morning that will give everyone here a better understanding of Public-Private Partnerships – or PPPs – and their role in helping Timor-Leste achieve its goals for tourism. The United States is proud and committed to supporting this vital platform for developing tourism in Timor-Leste.
USAID’s tourism project objectives reflect our commitment to supporting inclusive and sustainable tourism growth and advancing the Government of Timor-Leste’s goals of boosting tourist arrivals to 200,000 annually by 2030, increasing employment in tourism to 15,000 jobs and generating $150 million in annual tourism revenues. Well-structured PPP projects could really contribute to Timor-Leste achieving these goals.
PPPs can have a very positive impact on tourism. These partnerships also align well with U.S. Government goals. A key element of our Indo-Pacific Strategy is to support strong, market-based economies in the region and to encourage their sustainable development. We believe this kind of development also helps a country move along its journey to self-reliance so that it eventually is able to solve its development challenges on its own.
Timor-Leste is a country rich in natural beauty and cultural heritage. I recall my first trip to Atauro Island last June, where we previewed the USAID-produced film The Sea that Sustains Us for many of the people featured in the film. In my travels throughout the country, I have encountered a warm, welcoming people and a country that has a wealth of natural vistas – from the beautiful, rich seas to the high mountains such as the revered Mount Ramelau. It is a country with a compelling history and full of cultural sites and traditions that I am sure – with the right care from both the government and the private sector – would attract more visitors. One of the reasons I feel so at home here is because I also love another beautiful tropical island with palm trees, seas and mountains. However, that island – Puerto Rico – is on the other side of the world in the Caribbean Sea. Based on my own personal observations, there are many similar characteristics in Timor-Leste and Puerto Rico.
After hundreds of years as a colony of Spain, Puerto Rico became a part of the United States. In recent years, even after the devastation of several hurricanes, Puerto Rico established its niche in the competitive market of Caribbean beaches. It has a rich cultural history that it actively promotes the heritage of its native peoples and the Spanish colonial period. It has a successful tourism industry connected to beaches, diving and snorkeling, and a range of accommodations. In addition to Puerto Rican cuisine in fine-dining restaurants, there are numerous small-family run “kioskos” selling beloved local dishes that tourists now also seek out and enjoy. Many of these dishes are similar to foods that grow here – coconuts, cassava, bananas and plantains, black beans and pigeon peas. Timor-Leste has similar tourism attributes that could help build a thriving tourism industry while preserving resources for future generations. PPPs can help make this possible.
Well-structured PPP projects can attract interest and investment from multiple stakeholder groups. This can create a mutually beneficial platform where the public sector plays a role in helping to improve quality and in marketing a destination, while the private sector is responsible for delivering a variety of appealing and consistent tourism products. There is no one-size-fits-all manual for a PPP. Every country requires a strategy tailored to its unique situation.
This morning you will hear about strategies some of our neighbors in the region are employing to build tourism partnerships. I’m confident that today’s discussion and sharing of experiences from ASEAN countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia will provide important knowledge and technical capabilities for Timor-Leste to better design, implement, and manage tourism PPPs.
We all expect controlled, sustainable growth in tourism to succeed in Timor-Leste. We know it is a priority for economic diversification, which is one of the reasons why donors are assisting in tourism development. We believe the PPP strategy will be a key driver over the next three years of Tourism For All. However, what you learn here today will be useful far into Timor-Leste’s future – even past the day when the 200,000th visitor arrives to marvel at the cultural heritage and natural beauty so abundant here.
Enjoy your morning and thank you very much!