Subject: Out of Timor tumult, opportunity beckons some June 12, 2000

Out of Timor tumult, opportunity beckons some


Tourism and East Timor are not usually words that go hand in hand.

But they were a natural match for the owners of a Harvey World franchise in Darwin, whose sympathy for the victims of the East Timor crisis led them into running a business from a shipping container in a burnt-out churchyard.

Lorraine and John Thompson said they took their first trip to East Timor to see what they could do for people.

"Other businesses - Thrifty Rent a Car and Xerox - wanted to go up too, so we chartered a nine-seater aircraft there," Ms Thompson said. "When we flew into the airport, it was pretty well devastated."

Harvey World Travel managing director Paul Fleming was more graphic: "There was nothing left of the airport building but a little conveyor belt."

Yet in the rubble they spied a business opportunity. The Thompsons set up shop in a few shipping containers and chartered Air North planes three times a week, flying in other businesses to scout around and set up shop. They also flew refugees back into the country.

Operating in a country without phone lines or banks took perseverance.

Even now, earnings cannot be banked. Money must be flown back to Australia. The franchise has expanded its business to freight handling for Qantas, and R&R for UN personnel.

"This work will last for around 18 months to two years and then we expect to have a leisure tourism business up and running," Ms Thompson said. "It's one of the most beautiful places you've ever seen."

Mr Fleming said: "We are one of the first commercial businesses in East Timor ... we're getting inquiries now from people in New Guinea."

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