National | Tourism

Budget 2024: Māori tourism seeks investment in regions, reputation rebuild, infrastructure and education

Māori tourism operators are keen to see infrastructure development, training and assistance in repairing reputational brand damager in tomorrow government’s budget.

The New Zealand tourism market, valued at $37 billion, is the country’s second-largest export earner. TRENZ, Aotearoa’s largest tourism event, wrapped up in Wellington earlier this month. The event offers a global platform for tourism operators to build partnerships and showcase their offerings.

TRENZ officials welcomed 1,000 delegates from New Zealand and 200 international buyers from 25 countries. For Māori tourism operators, it was a prime opportunity to highlight their rich cultural heritage and unique experiences.

“For Māori, it’s about our connections with the earth and the sky, and especially with the environment. We take into consideration family and our extended communities. We are a collective, and our economic benefits go back to the community,” said Wetini Mitai-Ngatai from Mitai Cultural Tours.

Debbie Robertson from Wai Ariki Hot Springs and Spa emphasised the importance of sharing Māori traditions: “For us, sharing our stories, sharing what we’ve been doing for hundreds of years in Rotorua, our healing waters. It is a blend of saunas, waterfalls and pools, but it’s our infusion of cultural touchpoints that make it unique.”

Porina McLeod from Mauao Adventures echoed these sentiments, highlighting the connection between people and the land.

“We essentially connect people of the world and our locals to our whenua, to our moana, and to us as tangata whenua. We do that by way of paddleboarding, waka ama and walks up our maunga, Mauao.”

Despite their resilience, Māori tourism operators face significant challenges.

“During Covid-19, Rotorua was hit hard. We were impacted by more whānau being put up for housing, and the reputation brand damage that Rotorua sustained. We are still trying to recover from that, and it’s going to take us a long time,” Robertson explained.

Dean Savage from Dive Tatapouri pointed out the lingering effects of natural disasters.

“After the cyclone, there was a perception that we were closed for business. We want to change that perception. We are now open for business.”

Last year’s budget allocated $8 million to Māori tourism. As they look ahead to the 2024 Budget, Māori tourism operators have specific needs and hopes for continued support.

“We need support to get us out of that perception of brand damage and to connect with all our products across the motu,” Robertson stressed.

McLeod highlighted the need for training and development.

“If we had the funding to be able to train our kaimahi and allow them to develop their knowledge and understanding of their own stories and areas for about three months, that would be beneficial.”

Savage emphasised the importance of infrastructure.

“My hope is that they stay the course building roads of resilience that we need in Tairāwhiti. Without those roads, we don’t have our visitors coming, and we don’t have our goods leaving the district. So, if I ask for funding, maintain the track for good infrastructure.”

Mitai-Ngatai suggested focusing on rural entities, rather than those already well-funded.

“Those doing well and already having substantial investment should not be the focus. Instead, we need to concentrate on supporting Māori and rural entities.”

As the tourism sector eagerly anticipates the 2024 Budget on May 30, the hope is that it will address these needs, providing the necessary support for Māori tourism operators to thrive and continue sharing their cultural heritage with the world.