Ngā mihi o te Tau Hou, and congratulations to the accommodation sector on your record numbers. It is probably one of the few areas in tourism where your volume is vitally important for the rest of the us.

There are a number of contributing factors that can be attributed to the growth of Māori tourism and they include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • International demand for authentic experiences
  • Greater awareness domestically of the depth and breadth of a Māori experience
  • Leveraging trade relationships and brands
  • Investment

Not so long ago Māori tourism experiences were measured by a category called 'culture' along with museums and the like. In a satisfaction survey one of the questions asked was 'have you rowed a waka?'

Of course we know you don't row a waka, you paddle! One of the responses was (I) thought Māori lived in grass huts and wore grass skirts, so our images and the narrative used did little to feed the curiosity of potential manuhiri (visitors).

Domestically there was little understanding of a Māori tourism experience, and marketing was predominantly focused on performance type activities. Five years ago we were being pushed by officials to focus on volume – something we ignored. Fast forward to now and whilst there is still a lot to be done, things have changed significantly. There is a greater understanding of the depth and breadth of Maori tourism experiences – hunting, fishing, guiding, sailing, home-hosted dinners etc.

Five years ago I was in Omapere at the Copthorne Hotel and Resort Hokianga (one of our members) having dinner. The American couple at the table next to me asked the waitress about the sand dunes and she launched into the story about Kupe's first landing spot and the two taniwha: Arai-te-uru and Taniwha Niwa, who stand guard on opposite sides of the harbour entrance.

I knew none of this, and like the manuhiri was fascinated with the tales of the area. They decided to stay another two days and asked the young woman if they could pay her to guide them – they wanted to know and learn more about Māori and the history of the area.

Speak to our operators and they all have similar stories. On the surface, the Copthorne is but another hotel, however Shane and Pip are committed to hiring and training local staff with local knowledge – local to Maori often relates to whakapapa (genealogy) so their stories could be as far reaching as Te Rerenga Wairua in the far north to Te Waipounamu in the South Island.

The richness of our story-telling has never-ending possibilities when developing itineraries. So, when people bang on about product development, I say "bugger off" – it is not so much about product development but linking the whakapapa, which is exactly what a lot of our businesses have been doing for a very long time.

The only variation might be the type of activity one participates in e.g. stay in a hotel in the Hokianga, participate in a waka sailing in Napier, stay at Ahi Kaa in Gisborne, head down to Whalewatch in Kaikoura and finish off in a jet boat in Queenstown – whakapapa all the way!

A huge number of our businesses linking through whakapapa are also leveraging Māori trade partners to gain in-market knowledge and presence and vice versa. On our first trip to Guangzhou we hosted an evening with the primary sector where our guests ate seafood from Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Kahungunu prepared by the Chinese, meat from one of our farms, wine from Wakatu Incorporation, and met with our operators and the Patea Maori Club. The story continues with our gifts from Māori artists.

As with many other countries (South America through our navigational history, Europe and our links with the 28th Māori Battalion), our entry into China markets are premised around our cultural links.

Importantly, investment has created significant opportunities both in linking with source countries and the opportunity to host VVIPs (I believe the new acronym is UHNWI). This has helped infrastructure investment in our industry, whether building new hotels and/or purchasing and improving existing stock.

The one thing I would like to now see is a commitment in principle by investors to demonstrate what their maintenance programme is going to look like and how they intend to finance it. This could be done as part of the OIO process. We have seen the detrimental effects of not doing this in our regions, where accommodation is letting the team down because it has been poorly maintained.

My final word goes to our smaller accommodation providers – you truly are the unrecognised champions of our industry. When travelling, I mix my accommodation up, and overall the service from smaller businesses has been outstanding. Your local knowledge is exceptional and the small things that you do to make me feel important – like having the electric blanket on when it's cold, recommending great restaurants and things to do, a warm friendly smile on arrival and departure, and blow me down – a lot of you offer free wifi.

The question is – if a small New Zealand business can offer free wifi, why not the big hotels?

I look forward to working with you in 2015.

Mauri ora

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