The case for developing a destination brand for Timor-Leste

Type Journal Article - Buka hatene Compreender Mengerti Understanding Volume II
Title The case for developing a destination brand for Timor-Leste
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2014
Page numbers 94-99
URL Conf 2013/Volume 2 individual papers/vol2_whole.pdf#page=94
The idea that tourism will play a role in the future development of Timor-Leste is not new (CabassetSemedo
2009, 216). Since Timor-Leste’s formal independence in 2002, tourism has been promoted as a
means to create jobs, build businesses, create income for national and local economies and improve
regional economic imbalances (Timor-Leste Government 2011).
Timor-Leste’s economy is heavily reliant upon offshore resources, specifically oil and natural gas,
as well as agriculture, predominantly coffee and rice. The population is very young as a result of a 24-year
occupation, with 41.4% aged 14 years and younger (National Statistics Directorate & United Nations
Population Fund 2011). A flourishing tourism industry could create jobs for the growing population while
at the same time, diversify the nation’s oil-dependent economy.
The country is also blessed with natural and cultural resources, making it an ideal candidate for
tourism. As the country’s Strategic Plan 2011-2030, the most recent tourism planning document to date,
proclaims: ‘With Timor-Leste’s natural beauty, rich history and cultural heritage there is great potential to
develop tourism as a major industry to underpin our economic development’ (Timor-Leste-Government
However in the decade since independence, progress has been slow. Data for tourism arrivals is
scarce and in many cases contradictory, with the Timorese government producing vastly different statistics
to the World Bank (The World Bank 2012). The country still works without an official ‘Tourism
Development Plan’ and poor infrastructure, inflated prices, and limited choice of accommodation and
restaurants further impede growth.
Due to its tumultuous history, Timor-Leste also suffers from a negative international perception.
Despite a decade of relative peace and safety, the perception persists that Timor-Leste is dangerous and
unstable (Carlos and Carlos 2011). The country lacks a strong, defined and positive image that can be
communicated to prospective international visitors.
It is argued that in today’s competitive marketplace, effective positioning and differentiation are
critical to destination success (Morgan et al. 2003, 286; Anholt 2006, 1; Baker and Cameron 2008, 81; Vitic
and Ringer 2008, 128; Pike 2009, 857). A uniquely identifiable ‘brand’ is seen by many as a crucial tool in
achieving a competitive advantage (Balakrishnan et al. 2011, 5; Garcia et al. 2012, 646), particularly in the
early stages of market recovery, where it can help resurrect international image and perception (Vitic and
Ringer 2008, 129).
Branding is hailed by some as a key national asset (Kotler and Gertner 2002, 250; Baker and
Cameron, 2008, 85) and the basis for survival within a globally competitive marketplace (Morgan et al.
2003, 286).
Further to this, brands are more than a logo and slogan, for which they are often mistaken. Modern
definitions of brands claim they present a narrative to potential consumers, who then feel a connection
(Morgan et al. 2003, 286; Konecnik Ruzzier 2012, 127).
While it would be unfair to say that branding Timor-Leste has not been attempted, one could
argue that developing a powerful and lasting ‘brand identity’ for Timor-Leste is yet to be realised by
successive Ministers and governments. A number of slogans were used during the early years of
independence, a ‘turismo Timor-Leste’ logo was developed by an international consultancy agency and
successive Ministries have each built new websites and produced new brochures. However, as Morgan et
al. (2003) argue, destination brand building can be undermined by the ‘short-termism’ of chief political
stakeholders, given that a destination brand’s lifespan is a longer-term proposition than most politicians’
careers (Morgan et al. 2003, 288). In the case of Timor-Leste, the marketing strategy has changed with
successive Ministries, making it disjointed and often inconsistent.
Indeed, merely disseminating information about the country does not equate to managing and building the
country’s image. Nor do a slogan and a logo necessarily enable the destination to deliver a powerful, 95
targeted and unique destination brand, particularly if they are not widely and consistently used.
This paper will argue the case for developing a sustainable and strategic destination brand for
Timor-Leste and contend that it could effectively stimulate tourism growth. The paper will then elucidate
some useful principles relevant to the case of Timor-Leste that could aid the brand development process.

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