Northern Australia and Eastern Indonesia: So Close but So Far

Northern Territory, East Timor, East Nusa Tenggara

Trilateral Tourism Project to Build a Commercial Case to Support New Flights from Darwin to Indonesia.


In late December 2017 a new international flight commenced linking Kupang and Dili with three return flights per week, the fares were affordable and initially well supported both ways.

After three months the service was suspended for commercial reasons.  Rather than suggest that increased flight services linking our region are not sustainable it demonstrates that there is an ongoing desire to provide better links in our region therefore the question is how is the commercial case to achieve this constructed?

This brief paper sets out to answer that question.

If at the commencement of the Air Timor service one more route to create a triangle route linking Darwin Kupang and Dili would be opened to create the opportunity for new tourism opportunities to links Darwin to an exciting new tourism growth region.

The Northern Territory, Timor-Leste and Eastern Indonesia are frontier destinations that together could play a part in underpinning each other’s economic development.

Darwin is known as Australia’s Asian Gateway; it is looking beyond that gateway that new tools to deal with old problems can be found.

Rather than applying the same old thinking to old problems the benefits of a new regional approach to tourism, education and economic development unlocks new opportunities.

When referring to the north of our country we really need to live up to our own expectations because the harsh reality is that Darwin as ‘Gateway to Asia’ risks becoming little more than a cliché unless we apply new thinking to promote closer relationships and build new strategic regional alliances beyond the ‘doorway’.

We cannot afford to just wait for another airline to come along to reduce our increased isolation we need to act and be creative.

The reality is Darwin is arguably more isolated in 2018 than at any-time since QANTAS was founded nearly 100 years ago.

Most predict that the Northern Territory economy will face challenging headwinds for the next few years as we adjust to life post the resources boom. Times like this force us to be creative and seek new solutions.

While the Territory waits for the next big thing – such as a decision around onshore gas exploration – there are opportunities to link with East Timor and the eastern Indonesian provinces to open new economic fronts.

The economic landscape to our north is rapidly changing.

The soon to be announced resolution to the maritime boundary between Australia and Timor-Leste is predicted to stimulate renewed Timor Sea oil and gas investment.  Along with this comes the opportunity for the Northern Territory to support this activity in a number of ways.

The Indonesian Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership [IA-CEPA] is the most significant bilateral trade deal to date between Australia and Indonesia and will be concluded this year.

IA-CEPA is expected to open up new opportunities for better investment and trade opportunities with eastern Indonesia.  It is widely predicted that incentives to promote the provision of vocational education and training to support economic development in the region will be included in the agreement.  This will provide an opportunity for CDU and other Territory Education providers.

And any assessment of the type of economic developments in our immediate region points to new opportunities for Territory tourism.

Both Indonesia and Timor-Leste have recognised the pivotal role of tourism when planning regional and national economic growth.

The effect of volcanic activity in Bali also underscores the need to develop new markets beyond Bali.  New destinations in the east will draw more tourists into the area to our north.

Indonesia has accelerated plans to support a goal of increasing international tourism to 20 million by 2020 and to entice those visiting Bali to travel East.

Timor-Leste has a national goal to grow tourism from 55,000 annually to 200,000 by 2030 and much of this increase will be sourced from those exploring beyond Bali.

Darwin can benefit from this.  As the Australian capital within an hour’s flight from either Dili or Kupang, we can choose to either see this growth in our region as competition or as an opportunity for strategic collaboration.

Darwin also has a strong tourism profile that could benefit from an increased flow of tourists into the region to not only savour the unique Territory product but to access our strategic links to destinations an hour north Darwin.  I know locals would enjoy the option of a weekend in either East Nusa Tenggara or Timor-Leste if it were available.

Internationally Northern Territory could position itself as a premier and unique destination to draw tourists travelling East from Bali into Darwin and conversely out through Darwin to Kupang or Dili on to Bali.

Affordable flights linking the three cities and then onto Bali is the key.  The first step is to begin discussions between government and tourism sectors in northern Australia, eastern Indonesia and Timor-Leste to set a framework for joint marketing and promotion.  This joint planning strengthens the commercial case for airlines to service these routes.

The ideal vehicle to conduct this three-way dialogue is the existing Trilateral Forum initiated by Timor-Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao in 2014 and strongly supported by the Foreign Ministers of both Australia and Indonesia.

Rather than the broad agenda of the past it should instead be tightly focussed on tourism and directly related sectors such as Education and training.

Australia through Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has provided support to Indonesia to assist with the development of President Jokowi’s tourism master-plan so an extension to support a three-way dialogue is appropriate.

Bringing the three regions; north Australia, eastern Indonesia and Timor Leste together in a collaborative way to establish a sector that can maximise regional economic growth; is a way to ‘kill three birds with one stone’ and breathe new life into a trilateral dialogue that would benefit from a sharper focus.

Successful Meetings Kupang in December.

A meeting to discuss the proposal to adopt a new tight focus on tourism between Trilateral members was held in East Nusa Tenggara provincial capital Kupang in December 2017.

The meeting was proposed by former Chief Minister Terry Mills and was convened and facilitated by the office of the Governor of Nusa Tenggara Timur with DPR Senator Abraham Lyanto presiding.

The Northern Territory Chief Minister was briefed before the meeting and provided in principle support.  Timor-Leste was well represented with Tourism Minister Vong strongly supporting the concept and sending his senior staff to attend as show of support. Timor-Leste consular officers also attended the meeting.

The Governor of East Nusa Tenggara has publically given this proposal the strongest support.

Author: terencekennedy

I live in the North of Australia in a city closer to Jakarta than Canberra. My view of the world is flavoured by the easy reminder that Australia's address is within a South East Asian neighbourhood.

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