The government in Catholic-majority Timor-Leste hosted the first music and cultural festival involving participants from across the country, part of an effort to promote tourism and diversify income sources.
The festival held on Atauro Island, north of Dili, from Nov. 21 to 24 is being attended by President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak along with 14 ambassadors from various countries, such as the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Brazil, Thailand, France and the European Union
More than 3,000 people from 13 municipalities are also present along with representatives from Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara province who inhabit the western part of Timor island and share cultural similarities.
President Ramos-Horta while opening the festival said that Atauro will be developed into a world tourism destination.
"The people of Atauro must defend this land, plant lots of trees and flowers, and also take good care of this marine environment. Atauro must become the kind of place that attracts more tourists," he said.
He further assured the festival would be regularly held as "the biggest art show in Timor-Leste" to attract tourists from other countries.
Domingas Ximenes of the Watulela tribe in Atauro expressed gratitude that the festival was being held on the island after its inauguration as a municipality in January.
He said it will provide an opportunity for the local people to showcase their culture and market their handicrafts to visitors.
Asia's youngest nation is seeking to diversify its economy and reduce dependence on petroleum, which currently accounts for about 70 percent of the GDP and more than 80 percent of the country's annual income.
Since 2017, the government has been keen on tourism development and aims to generate US$150 million in revenue along with 15,000 jobs by 2030.
It is aiming for 200,000 international visitors per year by 2030 compared to 55,000 in 2014.
In addition to promoting cultural and nature tourism, the government is also exploring the potential of religious tourism, for which it has extended support to the Timor-Leste Religious Tourism Association (ATR-TL).
ATR-TL, an interfaith institution, was launched in 2021 with funding from the government and agencies such as USAID.
Father Angelo Salshina of Dili archdiocese, who heads ART-TL, said apart from developing existing religious tourism sites and training 80 tour guides, they will also be building a peace park in Comoro, Dili, next year.
"We are working with the government. Our focus is on how we can attract tourists from other countries," he said.