DILI (TOP) – The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), through USAID’s Tourism For All Project, is celebrating World Tourism Day 2021 with the second annual Turizmu Ba Ema Hotu Tourism Champions awards, a program to recognize organizations and individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the tourism industry in Timor-Leste.
According to USAID, the project has also continued its Tourism Youth Ambassadors activity for a third year, with a public speaking competition for young men and women on this year’s World Tourism Day theme, “Tourism For Inclusive Growth.” USAID and partners recognized the winners at a ceremony on October 8 at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in Dili.
“The Turizmu Ba Ema Hotu Champions awards program is a show of U.S. support for Timor-Leste’s tourism sector,” said U.S Chargé d’Affaires Tom Daley. “It is a pleasure to celebrate the achievements of the men and women whose hard work is instrumental to helping Timor-Leste become a must-visit destination for tourists. They are keeping their business going during the COVID-19 pandemic and thinking creatively about how to expand tourism opportunities in Timor-Leste.”
Other attendees included Acting USAID Mission Director Harold Carey, government officials, and leaders of the Faith-based Tourism Association (Asosiasaun Turizmu Relijiozu Timor-Leste-ATRTL). The event was organized with support from corporate partners Heineken Timor-Leste, East Timor Trading, the Hotel Owners of Timor-Leste Association (HOTL), and Guidepost Magazine.
The Turizmu Ba Ema Hotu Tourism Champions awards are taking place at a challenging time for tourism businesses, due to COVID-19 impacts on international travel and local business operations as well as the devastating floods across the country in April. Reflecting the challenges the tourism sector has faced in recent months, USAID’s Tourism For All project created three award categories: Tourism Champions, Solidarity Champions, and Climate Champions. The USAID project selected winners from nominations gathered through a public online poll, open to Timorese people and people overseas who have visited the country. An internal panel at USAID’s Tourism For All activity selected the winners, based on the comments given in the online nomination questionnaires and the number of nominations received by each candidate.
Netizens nominated the Tourism Champions for their efforts to support sustainable tourism in Timor-Leste and promote and protect the country’s tourism attractions and culture. Judges selected eight winners in this category:
- Alito Rosa and Konservasaun Flora no Fauna: This volunteer group raises awareness of environmental protection at the Mangrove Centre in Hera, which has become one of Timor-Leste’s newest tourist attractions.
- Jeremias “Adino” Boavida, Head Waiter at the Caz Bar Restaurant: Adino has provided exemplary customer service to guests over his ten-year career. He was also recognized for his enthusiasm in offering tourism information and travel advice to visitors.
- Robert Crean and the Compass Diving Team: The award recognizes Robert Crean’s 13-year commitment to marine tourism in Timor-Leste, working closely with local communities in Atauro. Compass Diving has been active in marine biodiversity research and raising environmental awareness through field courses for Timorese students.
- Luis “Melky” Bere-Hunu and Dreamers Dive Academy: As the first Timorese to become a qualified dive instructor, Melky has been able to share his passion with young people keen to explore the underwater world in their own country.
- Danny Lee and Ocean View: Danny Lee invested in a restaurant and guest house in 2002 and has since expanded the business to include a dive centre, whale-watching operation, and kite surfing school. Over the years he has engaged the local beachside community in activities to protect the marine environment.
- Manukoko Rek, Atauro: Operated by a local women’s group, this guesthouse and restaurant invests 100 percent of its profits in the community, working with a network of small handicrafts businesses, and generating income to support families in one of the poorest parts of the island.
- Carlos Soares, Lauhata Resort Liquica: One of the first tourism entrepreneurs to invest in Liquica, Carlos Soares has trained and employed local youth to offer excellent service in his guesthouse and restaurant. Guests are encouraged to plant trees in the resort gardens.
- Francisco Alexandre Pereira, Bollore International: As air operations officer at Dili’s President Nicolau Lobato Airport, “Alex” Pereira has been recognized by grateful travelers for his support and assistance to passengers in difficulty and those with special needs.
The Solidarity Champions award recognizes tourism businesses that stepped up to help others who were affected by the dual tragedies of the coronavirus pandemic and the floods from Cyclone Seroja in April. More than 40 people died in the floods, thousands of families displaced to evacuation centres and the Government of Timor-Leste declared a state of calamity. Although the industry was already reeling from the impact of COVID-19, some tourism businesses mobilized to help the community. Judges selected two winners:
- Pro Ema Training Restaurant: Through its “Together We Are Stronger” campaign, Pro Ema raised more than $30,000 in relief funds, cooked, and distributed more than 30,000 meals to flood victims in evacuation camps, along with more than 20,000 kilograms of raw rice and 850 basic needs packages, including such items as groceries, bedding, kitchen utensils and face masks.
- Agora Food Studio: During the COVID-19 crisis, many small Timorese-owned businesses were dependent on social media marketing to offer takeaway and delivery services. With support from USAID, Agora Food Studio produced a series of instructional videos to improve e-marketing skills and to help restaurants apply health protocols when they reopened.
The floods also served as a stark reminder of the impact of climate change. Judges recognized three Climate Champions for their consistent efforts to encourage businesses and individuals to play their part in mitigating the adverse effects of climate change. Judges selected three winners:
- Potenzo Lopes: A wildlife conservationist and nature photographer, Potenzo Lopes conducts birdwatching tours and runs education and outreach programs about wildlife and nature conservation for students. He co-founded the Tasi Mos movement that organizes community beach clean-up activities.
- Fernando Madeira, DaTerra Agroecological Farm, Baucau: At this farm and guesthouse founded on the principles of ecotourism, visiting school groups learn about how to mitigate climate change by reducing the carbon footprint, using local products, planting trees, and conserving water and energy.
- Eugenio “Ego” Lemos, PERMATIL: PERMATIL is a group working for sustainable farming through water and land conservation. Since 2008, more than 5,000 young people have participated in PermaYouth camps to learn about environmental issues and gain skills that can be taken back and shared with their communities.
“The Tourism Champions Awards will help boost morale and confidence in the tourism industry,” said Acting USAID Mission Director Carey. “All Tourism Youth Ambassadors finalists are up-and-coming leaders who give hope for the future of tourism in Timor-Leste.”
"Good news is the thing we need most at the moment. I know all of the members of my team will be so happy,” said Pro Ema Director Simone Barbosa de Assis.
Winners of this year’s Tourism Youth Ambassadors award are Maria Pereira and Ronaldo Ima Dias do Rego, both students at UNTL. Judges selected these university tourism students at a recent public speaking competition on the World Tourism Day theme of “Tourism For Inclusive Growth.” Their public speaking skills will be put to good use as Tourism Youth Ambassadors in a yearlong internship with USAID’s Tourism For All project. They will raise awareness of the need for sustainable, inclusive tourism development, spreading the word to young people and communities around the country.
In keeping with the World Tourism Day theme, competition organizers presented the Tourism Champions and Youth Ambassadors with glass trophies engraved by artisans from Centru Sover, a social enterprise for disabled people, using specialized equipment supplied to the group through a grant from USAID’s Tourism For All Project.