Deep Dive: New Marine Tourism Association Hopes To Bring World To Timor-Leste

Monday, August 12, 2019
USAID Mission Director Diana B. Putman Accompanied by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta Launched Timor-Leste Tourism Maritime Association
Cris Guterres / USAID

DILI, TIMOR-LESTE – The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Ministry of Tourism, Commerce and Industry on Friday launched the country’s first Marine Tourism Association to make Timor-Leste a world renowned destination for environmental tourism.

USAID’s Tourism For All Project and the ministry launched the new association at a day-long conference at Timor Plaza. The association reinforces USAID’s commitment to the Government of Timor-Leste’s drive to diversify its economy beyond oil by promoting sustainable ecotourism with economic benefits flowing to local communities, private tourism operators and the government.

“Two years ago, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration certified Timor-Leste waters as some of the most biodiverse in the world,” said USAID Mission Director Diana B. Putman. “This new association can play a vital role in helping the country take advantage of its natural beauty in a sustainable and economically beneficial way, which is important because economic diversification is essential to Timor-Leste’s future.”

The Marine Tourism Association was formed in April when it drafted and approved a two-year program. The association will develop a strategy and action plan to develop marine tourism, first in Atauro and Dili Municipality and eventually expanding to other parts of the country.

“Timor-Leste has outstanding marine ecosystems, particularly coral reefs and marine wildlife,” said Association Board President Karen Edyvane. “These hold enormous potential to develop a world-class marine ecotourism industry and I believe with proper planning and investment, Timor-Leste could become a global destination for ecotourism, particularly marine tourism - the Costa Rica of Southeast Asia.”

The president of the association’s general assembly, Avelino Fernandes, called establishment of the group a “great step forward in developing Timor-Leste as a major global destination for marine ecotourism. Over the past five years, we have seen a major growth in tourism operators specializing in a diversity of activities available in Timor-Leste such as whale-watching, free-diving, eco-volunteers and marine conservation tourism.” Fernandes also noted that there is growing interest and participation in ecotourism among Timor-Leste coastal communities. 

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta opened the event, which was attended by representatives of marine-based tourism organizations, NGOs, universities and civil society organizations. The event included a panel discussion – “Setting a 2030 Vision for Marine Tourism in Timor-Leste” -- with representation from the government, private sector and communities-involved in tourism.

USAID works in partnership with the government of Timor-Leste to support broad-based and effective development.  Since 2001, USAID has provided over $350 million in development assistance to Timor-Leste.  USAID supports Timor-Leste in its efforts to build a more prosperous, healthy, and democratic country through programs that foster inclusive and sustainable economic growth, especially in the agriculture and tourism  sectors; improve the health of the Timorese people, particularly women and children; and strengthen the foundations of good governance—all areas which are highlighted in Timor-Leste’s Strategic Development Plan 2011-2030.  To learn more, visit:

Last updated: June 01, 2020

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