Lauren Ong and Calvin Yang, Dili, Timor-Leste – Singapore-owned businesses are investing millions of dollars in Timor-Leste's leisure and hospitality sectors.
These include five-star hotels, serviced apartments and an entertainment centre, which are among some of the biggest investments in the country so far.
New five-star hotel Pelican Paradise Resort, for instance, is part of a mixed-use township development project that spans 556ha – more than 1,000 football fields – and boasts spectacular views of the Timor Sea. Its first phase would cost about US$500 million.
Offering tourists an exotic holiday destination, the hotel features some 300 rooms, 10 beachfront villas and facilities such as specialty dining outlets, a 1,000-seat ballroom and a 50-metre infinity lap pool.
Recognising Timor-Leste's potential for development
Property developer Edward Ong, chairman of the Pelican Paradise Group, visited Timor-Leste as a church missionary in 2006 and recognised the country's potential.
"With a background in construction and developments, he (Dr Ong) decided to help Timor to have a positive transformation. He felt that building a hotel would be the way to go forward," said Pelican Paradise director of operations Samuel Ong.
The development could also help Timor-Leste fulfil the requirements to be a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). These include the ability to host the regional bloc's meetings in its convention centre and hundreds of hotel rooms.
The country's potential for tourism development, with its idyllic beaches, turquoise waters and rugged mountains, is among the reasons Singapore businesses are setting up shop there.
Singapore will be opening an embassy in Timor-Leste's capital Dili, in what Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has called a "significant milestone" in bilateral ties.
The move would improve access and opportunities for cooperation between Singapore and Timor-Leste, which has a population of more than 1.3 million.
On top of investor-friendly policies and political stability, businesses said they also see potential in the Timorese people.
Pelican Paradise said efforts have been made to hire and upskill local constructors to take on various big projects.
For A-Smart Holdings, a Singaporean-owned company which operates in areas such as print manufacturing, smart technologies, real estate and investment, works are underway to build two buildings comprising residential and retail lots.
"This country is young and full of opportunities," said the firm's chief executive officer Lim Huan Chiang, adding that early movers have an advantage in the market.
"The local people are very hardworking, and they are educated. So we want to get some of them to be trained and involved in our construction work. When the project is completed in future, we promise we will hire them and provide jobs to the local population."
Diversifying the Timor-Leste economy
The tourism developments will help Timor-Leste's efforts in diversifying its economy. Currently, oil and gas account for 70 per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).
Meanwhile, there are plans to make Timor-Leste a shipping hub in the region.
Timor-Leste's newest port Tibar Bay Port, which commenced operations in September 2022, is the country's new main port for container ships.
The port, built and operated by French conglomerate Bollore Group, is the largest infrastructure project in Timor-Leste and can receive more and bigger cargo than its previous port.
Already, there are plans to expand the capacity of the port, which gives it a greater opportunity to diversify the economy of Timor-Leste. – CNA/ca(dn)