Resetting New Zealand Tourism Through A Cultural Lens
By Ngahiwi Tomoana – Chairman, Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated
Tēnā koutou katoa e te iwi,
I’ve been recently appointed to the Minister of Tourism, Kelvin Davis’s taskforce. Mere and I have been hosting people here in Pakipaki for over 30 years, groups of ten to 500 at a time, just using the history of Heretaunga, Pakipaki, and Te Hauke, to tell our stories, and finishing it with a hāngi and a haka.
The last twenty years have seen the tourism industry depart from hāngi-haka, and go more towards a white-knuckle fever, bungee jumping, white-water jet boats and rafting, skiing, and mountain climbing, as well as fishing and hunting. This all came to a stop during COVID and tourism lost 90% of its revenue. So, I’ve been asked to look at things as an iwi leader, through a cultural lens, and reset the tourism agenda.
There are five issues that immediately arise for me:
The first one is that you cannot look for an answer in tourism within the tourism industry itself, it must come from the wider community and broader government agencies including regional and local councils as well as iwi and hapu.
Secondly, environmental tourism around the world can also be described as environmental vandalism. With Mount Everest, for example, turning from white to yellow snow due to all of the pollution and urine going into the snow. Also the game parks of Africa becoming slaughter houses for Elephants, Rhinoceros’s, and other mega species. As well as the Amazon River and its Jungles becoming orchards for ruptures and bust environmental minors. With that in mind, and knowing that New Zealand’s infrastructure wasn’t able to cope with the onslaught of tourism tourists, who wanted to come to a safe but distant land, we have the perfect opportunity to reset.
Thirdly, we have a whakataukī, ‘Ahakoa nia nia he pounamu’ meaning, ‘Although it is small and diminutive, it has the quality and value of a pounamu.’ It is this type of metaphor that I will use to describe our future in tourism – High value, with low impact. The high value is in our isolation, our unique cultural texture, and our innovative thinking. There’s also a quote from Rudyard Kipling, who was a British-Indian philosopher, and writer. When he visited the New Zealand in the early 1900’s described Aotearoa as the “loveliest, loneliest, land apart” and we have certainly realized this during COVID, and during lockdown, where Papatūānuku started healing herself rapidly as there were no cars on the road, the air was clear, there were no storm run-offs into creeks because businesses were closed, and our creeks, swamps, lagoons, and rivers became clear. The birdsong was at its fullest every day, all day as there was no din from traffic, industry, airplanes, or trains, and people were allowed to stay home in their sanctuary of their own backyards. The lesson for tourism is how do we maintain this type of healing for our lands environment and still reap the loveliest-loneliest dollar out of tourists.
Fourthly, the Māori tourism sector has been undervalued, underfunded, and never understood by New Zealanders and therefore, does not feature in New Zealand tourism landscape as it should.
Lastly, there is another sector in tourism that might happen quite spontaneously, or ad hoc which I think needs to be developed, which I will call: ‘Mahi ra tahi’ which literally means ‘Work for a day’, where visitors can choose to work for a day in many vocations such as farming, fishing, freezing works, orchards, vineyards, or even in offices where they work with the people that are hosting them to get a hands-on experience of a day in the life of a kiwi. This opens up many challenges, but many more opportunities, for example every farm becomes a potential tourist attraction, every forest, every freezing works, every footwear or furniture manufacturer, or working on a marae or in a community organisation. This is a low impact, high value proposition, because we already have the infrastructure here and it goes alongside a ‘food tourism’ chain where visitors work and process our tasty food products, not just dine out on them.
I would like to call a tourism symposium in our region to support the taskforce work. Ngāi Tahu have already signalled that they would like me to call a tourism symposium there in the next two months. I will be relying a lot on the current Māori tourism sector but also reaching out beyond into the wider community. Although this work may have a small window, I hope it will be of great value. Ahakoa nia nia he pounamu.
The authentic Māori stories that are told at every hui, and every tangi, on every marae are the untapped wealth of our new tourism. Some of the history and whakapapa pertaining to each marae (and there are nearly 700 throughout the country), are so fantastic and so unbelievable and you can never find them in any fiction, or any novel. The story telling around marae, around hangi fires, and during family wānanga, are only scratching the surface of the cultural wealth this country has to offer to the world.
But how do these stories and histories see the light of day if they are still mainly orally communicated? This is where we have to reach outside the tourism blinkers to bring in the Ministry of Education, Callaghan Innovation, Ministry for the Environment, and bring these stories to the tablets and computers of our students, in whatever learning environment they are in. This means recording, writing, videoing, digitalising, and then embedding these stories into our National curriculum so instead of tourist guides telling the story, we have a tourism sector of five-million people telling our stories, using tangata whenua and mana whenua from each marae and from each region as their own story tellers. And as we had a country of five million over lockdown, we should start using the term ‘Five-million operators.’ Operators who become qualified in Māori history and again our whānau they become experts in telling those stories. From those stories we become the operators, because as Māori, and as kaitiaki of these stories we also have kaitiakitanga over our land, our environment, our marae, and the people who come to visit us. Our manaaki, and kaitiaki over our whenua, and our people resident here also extends to visitors, and we always ensure the balance is kept between commercial and cultural imperatives. Telling our stories is a prerequisite for our tourism industry to become super successful. Secondly, using WAI 262 and Ko Aotearoa Tēnei Waitangi Tribunal Report as a handrail, we then explore the diversity of our country using a Māori lens.
Looking at all property and whakapapa of all plants, looking alongside DOC not just the survival but the regeneration and repopulation of these native flora and fauna to be used as a tourist tool and an attraction to enhance our people in places, rather than degrade them. Naturally, their local mana whenua and tangata whenua will have kaitiaki over these species, and our tourist manuhiri. But the power must be shared, in order to get an effective tourist transformation.
In addition to the development of resources and relationships with the resource kaitiaki, we must also upgrade our marae to become tourism hubs or economic hubs – at the moment they are just used as cultural hubs which means that Regional Development Ministry and the Civil Defence Ministry must resource marae to become civil defence centres, campervan centres, and technology centres to tell our stories, to host people, as well as provide civil defence cover. That means fibre-optic-ing up our remote marae, putting infrastructure in, to ensure they can cope with visitor numbers that will surely rise, with the resources to be able to tell their stories, but also get cover for any civic and regional emergences. It is much wider than a tourism sector that the tourism issues need to be addressed.
Furthermore, through Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and others, Māori communities must be developed for small business entities, and medium business entities to be able to tell these regional stories because we already live in these areas, and we aren’t going to leave in a hurry.
Hangi, haka, and hongi still has a resonance with tourists, but it will be better done on a local scale than on a mass scale, so there is less impact on the infrastructure required to host hoards, busloads, and planeloads on mass in our country, but rather cater for smaller touring groups, and families at any one time.
In summary, the new Aotearoa, New Zealand tourism trails from a Māori lens would be to activate Māori history and story-telling, using all the means at our disposal, getting New Zealand familiar with them over the next 2-3 years as our borders remain closed, and then launching this tourism family of five million that would not only be domesticised but can go and tell their stories to the world through our export industries, and our highly mobile international population who at the moment are all coming home to roost, but will surely reach out to far flung places of the world once the COVID panic is over, or once a vaccine is found. In the meantime, we have 1-3 years to reset the tourism agenda, and culture is the key.