September 1st, 2008
FORGET Bali - Aussie tourists could jump from Darwin to have a relaxing holiday in East Timor.
East Timor Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao said Australian tourists could be a driving force for the war-torn country's economy.
"I believe that when Australians know our country, they will prefer our country instead of Bali," he said.
Mr Gusmao said East Timor did not have the infrastructure for large-scale tourism, but said new hotels, scuba-diving firms and a new Lonely Planet travel guide had made the country more attractive.
He said scuba-diving could increase tourism from 10 Australians a year to 100 a month.
"It is the cleanest water in the world. The most beautiful corals.
"We too have Nemo."
Airnorth's 90-minute Darwin to Dili route is Australia's only flight to East Timor.
Chief executive Michael Bridge said the airline's 12 flights to Dili ferry 300 passengers a week.
"They have limited tourist options, but they have great potential," he said. "It's a beautiful country with beautiful people."
Mr Bridge said the flights to the country dropped to a third of the passengers since the political upheaval in the late '90s.
"We've been in constant decline since then. But now there is some stability in the country."
Tourism NT president Sylvia Wolf was sceptical of the plan to turn East Timor into a tourism destination. "They haven't got it all together yet," she said.
East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta boasted of the country's beaches and scuba diving at the North Australia Forum in June.
But he said the country must first deal with a small porcine problem.
"I haven't seen a city in my life that has so many pigs as my city."