Community-Based Eco-cultural Tourism in Timor Leste
FoE Timor Leste/Haburas in partnership with the community in Tutuala, at the eastern end of the island, work on new models of community based tourism that benefit people and the planet. In 2014, international tourism generated US$ 1,245 billion, yet often the financial benefits are not shared by local communities. Tourism also increases pressure for destructive development. FoE Timor Leste clearly demonstrated that ethical, equitable and ecologically sustainable tourism is possible for local communities and the nation as a whole.
The fundamental aims of the community tourism project is to ensure that remote rural communities have access to an economic development activity that utilises their own strength, distributes the benefits fairly, helps develop new skills and gain knowledge in ways that are empowering to the people as well as to strengthen the preservation of their cultural heritage and natural environment.
Ecologically Timor Leste is a Wallacea Biodiversity hotspot where visitors can enjoy the sun from the white fine sandy beach overlooking crystal clear sea, swim and snorkel in the warm tropical water, rich in healthy coral reefs. Oil and gas are the countries main sources of revenue, but they have a short lifespan and yet the Government has largely failed to invest and diversify its economic activities. Poverty remains an ongoing problem.
FoE Timor Leste worked with the community over the long term to establish the project . They set up several simple eco-lodges based on traditional architecture using bush building materials and constructed the facilities in accordance with their own timeline and standard. The road to Valu Sere was in disrepair and the community mobilised to repair it.
Today, despite several challenges and lack of experience, the community tourism venture has thrived. The community group has accumulated a good reserve of funds. Income from the eco-lodge has helped improve the standard of living in Tutuala and pay for children’s education. The tourism group has learned to work together and resolve conflicts effectively. They have hosted over 4,000 tourists from over 140 countries.
Learning from the first eco tourism project, FoE Timor Leste has replicated the model, assisting another community group in the highlands of Maubisse and at the coastal Laloran to set up their own tourism operation. The two newer groups are still getting training and support, but they are functional, proving that communities can make decisions for themselves and be part of the national development agenda.
It has helped generate regular income. Community members, some of whom have missed out on schooling have also acquired a wide range of skills – from budgeting and financial management, catering, hospitality, tour guiding, languages, environmental management to conflict management – all of which are crucial for Timor’s development. FoE Timor Leste is now sometimes consulted by the Government and international development agencies on tourism matters. Community-based tourism is now recognized and promoted as an important sector to be supported for Timor Leste.
Policy Recomendation: FoE Timor Leste calls on the government to make community-based ecotourism a priority non-fossil fuel sector in the national strategic development plan to be supported and developed for Timor Leste