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Atauro 2024
Lobitos Alves

The welcome is friendly; the beaches are beautiful, and the snorkelling is world-class – but the people of Atauro Island were facing economic decline before MAF flights gave the community a lifeline.

MAF flights bring thousands of tourists to the little-known paradise of Atauro Island every year, but the focus of the aviation initiative is to create life-changing opportunities for local workers and their families.

In 2022, Mission Aviation Fellowship introduced a domestic shuttle flight service offering reliable transportation for visitors to explore the pristine beauty of Atauro Island.

Without MAF’s reliable service from Timor-Leste’s capital Dili, islanders would not have the opportunity to boost their earnings through engagement with the visitors.

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Joas
Lobitos Alves
Joas Martins, who works as local tuk-tuk transport operator.

Joas Martins, who works as local tuk-tuk transport operator, described how the introduction of shuttle flights has opened new prospect for local drivers.

“We usually work collaboratively with the homestays here on Atauro to offer transportation options, helping the visitors to explore this lovely island,” said Mr Martins.

“We are delighted about MAF’s initiative of regular domestic flights to Atauro Island, as it enables us to generate job opportunities.”

... MAF’s initiative of regular domestic flights to Atauro Island, as it enables us to generate job opportunities.
Joas Martins, who works as local tuk-tuk transport operator.
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Wood carver
Lobitos Alves
Marcos Pacheco Noronha is a local wood carver who also works at Barry’s Place homestay.

Marcos Pacheco Noronha is a local wood carver who also works at Barry’s Place homestay. He highlighted how tourist visiting the island have boosted their income, which has a flow-on effect for families.

“I have been working with Barry’s Place for almost seven years, where I’ve had the opportunity to sell my woodcraft products,” said Mr Noronha.

“When the visitors come, they can purchase my woodcraft products, and all the income that I receive will be going to support my family.”

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Maun Mario
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Mario Pereira Soares, a staff member at Manukokorek homestay.

Mario Pereira Soares, a staff member at Manukokorek homestay, elaborated on how the visitors have contributed to the expansion of their economic revenue.

“Manukokorek is a locally owned homestay, employing seven local staff members from Atauro Island,” said Mr Soares.

“We collaborated with ATKOMA, a local tourism association, which coordinated with MAF to facilitate the transportation for tourists to explore Atauro Island and stay in our accommodation.

“The income I earn from working at Manukokorek will be used to support my parents and keep for my personal savings.”

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Nick Hitchins
Annelie Edsmyr
Nick Hitchins, Country Director of MAF in Timor-Leste.

Nick Hitchins, Country Director of MAF in Timor-Leste, explained the impact of the initiative.


“Atauro shuttle flights have actually been very strong from the very beginning, and it didn’t take very long for that route to become very popular,” said Mr Hitchins.


“We provided the only way for people to travel to Atauro Island, and without that service, the local economy was really in freefall and people were suffering.


“MAF has really helped by providing certainty, and that’s something that we’re very proud of and people have been able to rely on us.


“For that reason, they’ve been able to work on expanding their business, and the economic impact we’ve had on the island is hundreds of thousands of US dollars every year.


“We know from our data collection that the average foreign visitor spends around $500, and we transport more than 3,000 of them every year.”

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Barry Hinton, the owner of Barry’s Place.
Lobitos Alves
Barry Hinton, the owner of Barry’s Place.

Barry Hinton, the owner of Barry’s Place, described his vision for developing an eco-lodge relying on local skills and produce.


“In 2001, I arrived on Atauro Island as a volunteer, contributing to community development, and then I built up my own ecolodge in 2004,” said Mr Hinton.


“We put all of our money to support local people, all the fish are from local fisherman, and fresh fruits and vegetables are bought from local farmers.


“The material for all the buildings is locally sourced, and the architectural design is inspired by the iconic native house from Atauro Island.

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The eco-lodge at Barry's Place.
Lobitos Alves
The eco-lodge at Barry's Place.

“I have employed 22 people, with tuk-tuk drivers and boat drivers, so we have in total 35 people employed, and only three of them are not from Atauro Island.”


Mr Hinton, originally from Queensland, Australia, emphasized how Atauro Island feels like home to him.


“You can’t describe Atauro Island until you visit it. Then you have a feeling of coming home, so even our guests feel very relaxed and say, ‘This is such a nice place.’


“It’s like a home for me, and everyone is friendly. The snorkelling is amazing!

 

Author: Lobitos Alves