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Authenticity at the core of quality tourism

Hon Mark Burton
29 May 2004

Speech

Authenticity at the core of quality tourism: speech to Heritage and Character Inns of New Zealand

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to be speaking at your conference here today.

On my way here today, I was thinking about how far the industry has come in such a short time. In my four and a half years as Tourism Minister, I consider myself privileged to have been a part of a fundamental shift in the sector’s mindset.

More and more, the spectacular landscapes and environments which used to define New Zealand are becoming the backdrop for an ever-increasing range of sophisticated tourism products, aimed at an ever more sophisticated kind of guests.

We call them Interactive Travellers. These visitors tend to be well educated, travel internationally on a regular basis, and tend to have relatively high levels of discretionary income. They often go to the cinema, are high users of technology, read newspapers daily, and watch educational television programming.

These guests are looking for unique, authentic experiences that involve real interaction with both people and environments. Interactive travelers are exceptionally valuable to New Zealand: spending more, getting out into the outlying regions, and as keen as we are to interact with and protect the very environments and heritage that have drawn them here.

But they also want to be able to enjoy fine food, wine, and accommodation, as well as engage with their hosts personally. They want an authentic New Zealand experience, and they place a high value on many things we Kiwis tend to take for granted.

It’s true that, in the past, New Zealanders have been guilty of downplaying, underselling, or under-valuing our culture, sometimes to the point of neglecting to mention the vast array of cultural opportunities on offer to our international visitors.

But these days, we are coming to realise the value of our diversity and uniqueness, something clearly illustrated in the growing area of heritage and cultural tourism.

Hanmer Springs certainly offers guests an authentic New Zealand experience. Its heritage, outdoor activities, and genuine kiwi hospitality—all set amongst a stunning landscape—make it a spectacular location for a tourism conference.

As a destination, it is rich in culture and heritage. The Maori legend of Tamatea, which some of you will know, explains the origin of the hot springs. I believe it perfectly sets the scene for your conference. The legend describes how Tamatea and his party came ashore after their canoe was wrecked near Otago. Tamatea called on the paramount chief, the Ariki of the Northern volcanoes, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe, to save them from freezing to death on their journey north. The Ariki sent flames south and a piece of flame landed in Hanmer Springs, creating the hot springs where they could warm themselves. This legend demonstrates the long-standing heritage of Hanmer Springs’ reputation for warmth and hospitality.

Hanmer Springs was also one of New Zealand’s earliest developed tourism destinations, with a history that spans over a century.

In 1901, the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts was the first ever government department established to develop the business of tourism. While Rotorua was their primary focus, Hanmer Springs was also targeted for development by the Department.

Over time, the role and function of the Department grew. By the 1950s, the Tourist Hotel Corporation was established, to manage and promote a chain of government owned hotels. As accommodation owners and operators, you might appreciate this quote from the first general manager of the Tourist Hotel Corporation, upon his arrival from Britain:

None of the staff had any training in the preparation and service of food and New Zealand was rather known for its disdainful receptionists. The cooking was very simple and almost tasteless, with everything covered in brown gravy.

Times have changed indeed! Today, we all know that quality is at the heart of a sustainable tourism industry. Visitors who go home with good memories share those memories with their family and friends. This generates an ever increasing “buzz” about New Zealand, in turn attracting more of the kind of visitors we want. The benefits speak for themselves – happy guests not only contribute to the sustainability of our tourism sector as a whole—they increase the profitability of your own businesses.

Heritage and Character Inns are sector leaders in quality. The introduction of Qualmark as their standard for membership clearly demonstrates both foresight and a long-term commitment to the industry. A Qualmark rating provides both tour operators and travellers with the security and assurance of a world-class experience.

Qualmark is an excellent example of the strong government/industry relationships we have built over the past four and a half years. As a government, we have invested in Qualmark. As operators and members of Heritage and Character Inns, you have partnered with us to implement it.

This is exactly the kind of partnership we had in mind when we worked with key industry stakeholders to develop Strategy 2010—partnerships that will ensure the industry’s long-term future.

Over the past two years, this government has fostered the development of Qualmark through $2.5 million worth of funding, to develop assessment systems, automate the business, and expand beyond its original brief of accommodation assessment. Qualmark is now available across the product spectrum: adventure activities, cultural and nature experiences to rental car companies, bus and coach operators, museums, tours, retail, cafes and more.

Earlier this week, I announced an additional $500,000 of development funding for Qualmark over the next two years.

I also announced the launch of another new Qualmark development—one that no doubt will be of interest to you—the new, ‘Exclusive’ accommodation category.

Properties that have achieved a five star grade, with a 90 per cent or better score can apply for Qualmark Exclusive status. They then have to meet additional requirements including stability of management, established track record, undertaking international marketing, appropriately qualified staff and reference checks.

As I mentioned before, many Kiwis have tended to take a more limited view of what culture means than our international visitors. Yes, they are discerning and sophisticated, but to them, culture is not only about visiting museums, maraes and art galleries. It’s about all aspects of the authentic New Zealand way of life, even watching rugby games or having a BBQ on the beach.

Bed and breakfast accommodation fits well with this. Guests not only get to enjoy your excellent facilities—they get to know you, their hosts, as well. Your genuine kiwi hospitality is setting the standard for the authentic experiences that our ideal travellers seek.

With demand for the B & B experience increasing 38 per cent since 1997, you are becoming an increasingly important part of the cultural tourism experience.

And with continuously increasing visitor arrivals and interactive travellers known to seek these cultural interactions, demand for B&B accommodation looks set for even stronger growth.

Tourism is an economic powerhouse for New Zealand, and one of our most exciting and valuable sectors. Last year alone, over two million international visitors injected $6.4 billion into the New Zealand economy—an impressive 3.9 per cent increase on 2002’s record figures.

Let me put these figures into perspective. Every international visitor is worth the equivalent in earnings of 2.7 tonnes of apples, 2579 pounds of butter, or 1.6 tonnes of kiwifruit to the New Zealand economy. All industry forecasts point to continued strong growth in visitor numbers and, more importantly, an even stronger growth in expenditure.

Much of the growth in value was driven by an increase in arrivals from the United Kingdom and Australia, with foreign exchange earnings from the Australian inbound market exceeding $1 billion for the first time ever.

One factor underpinning this increase is the greater number of flights and airlines coming to New Zealand—an issue that I understand concerns your membership. You may be interested to know that last year, there was a 13 per cent increase in international flights to New Zealand. Over last summer’s peak period, the increase in capacity to Auckland Airport was as much as 30 per cent.

Eighteen airlines now offer services to New Zealand, with Emirates Air, Asiana Airlines, and Pacific Blue among the more recent entrants. 2003 also saw Qantas and Air New Zealand both increase their trans-Tasman capacity and the competitiveness of their airfares.

The government’s commitment to our “open skies” policy, which allows unrestricted services by the airlines of our partner countries, has promoted this expansion.

Open skies agreements open the airways to competition and create an incentive for airlines to offer as many services to New Zealand as possible. In this regard, the government has done and will continue to do our utmost to make New Zealand accessible to international visitors.

I would like to once again congratulate you on your commitment to the tourism industry, to providing our visitors with such a high quality, authentic, Kiwi, cultural experience, and of course for the way you continue to champion Qualmark.

I hope that you have time to enjoy some of the many visitor experiences Hanmer Springs has to offer, and I wish you all the best for a successful conference and prosperous year.

ENDS

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