Sustainable Destination Management in Timor-Leste

By Christian Wollnik (December 2011)

The destination became the main competitive unit in the tourism sector, and is defined as as a tourist product and then as a specific supply involving a set of resources, activities and actors of a territory. Further, sustainable destination management is defined as the joint management of a destination in consideration of the concept of sustainable development, and can be seen as the key tool for accomplishing a sustainable tourism development.

This study tackles the status quo of sustainable destination management in Timor-Leste. The fact that the tourism sector in Timor-Leste is still at a grassroots level must be understood as a huge chance to choose a ‘right’ pathway of tourism development, always bearing in mind that misguided developments cannot easily get adjusted in future.

The analysis focuses on five categories of sustainable destination management: (1) Organization of destination management, (2) destination planning and development, (3) destination marketing management, (4) human resource development, and (5) environmental management.

Regarding the organizational structures, the analysis leads to the tough but inevitable conclusion that Timor-Leste from a supply side point of view cannot be referred to as a destination, mainly due to the poor cooperation of its stakeholders and the absence of a strong steering entity. Against this background, the term management is inappropriate, as obviously is the notion sustainable.

A major problem in terms of planning and developing the destination lies in the huge discrepancy between the outlined vision and the strategies and actions undertaken to achieve this high-flying target: Tourism is officially prospected to be the countries second most important economic sector by 2030. In contrast, the strategies to achieve this ambitious goals are totally inappropriate, as they only imply actions that focus on small-scale and thus labor-extensive projects in the area of community-based tourism or ecotourism. A major obstacle in this context is that many of the destination’s stakeholders still understand sustainable tourism as a niche-concept instead of considering it a concept that should underly all all kinds of tourism from niche to mass markets and all levels of tourism planning and management.

Due to the lack of an integrated product, the current marketing activities focus on marketing the country, not the destination.

Regarding the development of human resources, it has to be stated that the number of apprenticeships is limited, while the courses offered only focus on low-skilled jobs in the area of cleaning and serving.

As there exists a huge awareness of the importance of vital natural resources for the future development among the destination’s stakeholders, the Government put serious emphasis on environmental issues since independence. Nonetheless, almost all facets of environmental management, such as the designation and management of protected areas, are still in its infancy.

Against the background of the findings of the status quo analysis, it seems likely that the Government sooner or later will make concessions towards investors that are on the country’s doorstep already, as more and more young Timorese put an increasing pressure on the labor market. This bears the risk of a future tourism development dictated by a couple of foreigners that downgrade the Timorese to an oft-quoted generation of waiters and cleaners.

In order to keep the control in Timorese hands, in the final recommendations the author calls on the destination’s stakeholders to finally be proactive. As a guiding concept he suggests his pragmatic Shrinking Triangle of Sustainable Destination Management in Timor-Leste. This model is based on a mainstreaming sustainability approach that combines the advantages of (mostly foreign) large-scale developments with the basic principles of the concept of sustainable tourism, in order to finally bridge the gap between visions and reality, and without neglecting essential sustainability issues at the same time.

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