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Ecotourism growth industry for Maori

8 August 2008

Ecotourism growth industry for Maori

When it comes to promoting our country to the world, a lot of emphasis goes on our scenery and clean green image. But what about our history and culture - the stuff that makes us unique?

New research into Maori tourism and how to grow it will be presented at the upcoming Ecotourism NZ Conference in Greymouth from 12 to 14 August.

Ecotourism NZ chair Brian MacKenzie says one of the principals of ecotourism is supporting and respecting indigenous communities.

Many ecotourism operations have a cultural element and work closely with iwi in their community. The research will hopefully help strengthen that bond.

"We're really pleased to be the first to hear about this exciting project. It promises to shed some light on cultural tourism, including what we are doing well, and what we can do better."

The Government-funded study looked into what visitors want in a cultural experience, and how to support Maori business development.

Entitled Te Tapoitanga Maori - Growing Regional Maori Tourism, it involved surveys and in depth interviews of tourists and mostly rural, Maori tourism businesses throughout New Zealand.

The project's leader, Chrys Horn of Landcare Research, says the four-year study found Maori tourism is a largely untapped market in need of strong business development and support.

"The questions now is, who should develop it and how?"

She says the research indicated the key to growing cultural tourism is to support Maori into running their own tourism operations. She cites Te Urewera Treks as a good example of a successful, Maori-run operation which offers people an intimate experience of Maori culture in a spectacular place, from people who have ancestral links to the land.

"They are a small business that works hard to sell their product to people who are interested in this type of cultural tourism."

Chrys says ecotourism is an area with growth potential for Maori. It reflects many of their cultural values, including storytelling and respect for the land, but is also already a popular genre of tourism.

"While there's potential for a more authentic Maori experience, it doesn't need to be promoted as Maori to be that."

"New Zealand will always be a place to go for natural beauty; if we can tap into that and add a Maori element to what we're doing it will deepen people's experience here"

Brian says this year's Ecotourism NZ Conference will expand on the research by looking into elements of cultural tourism such as who should share the stories of our land, consultation with tangata whenua and ensuring the integrity and quality of cultural experiences.

"There has been the perception in the past that some experiences in some regions have lacked authenticity. How do we ensure that experience is legitimate? How do tourists know if they are getting the real culture of the indigenous people or just commercial spin? "

One way would be to introduce robust quality control mechanisms linked to the Qualmark framework, he says.

"But there would be a set of challenges and potential conflicts around Qualmark as a non- Maori organisation looking to endorse the authenticity of cultural experiences."

ENDS

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