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Wednesday Letter: Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis

18 Apr 2018  By Contributor

In his speech this morning to the World Indigenous Tourism Summit at Waitangi, the minister of tourism highlights the “tremendous potential” of Māori culture to drive tourism and why a more holistic approach towards growth is now needed.

Kelvin Davis

I am honoured to be here today to formally close the World Indigenous Tourism Summit, an event which I believe is vital to strengthening indigenous tourism across the globe.

It is fitting that this year’s Summit was opened at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, a place sacred to New Zealanders as the site of the signing of Whakaputanga, the Declaration of Independence, and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

I wish to commend New Zealand Māori Tourism and the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance for their tremendous work in pulling together an event of this scale and significance.

I also wish to acknowledge the many delegates who have travelled long distances to be here in Aotearoa for this Summit and make important contributions to the kōrero.

Mass tourism: opportunities and challenges

Gatherings like this Summit are vital for generating ideas and sharing stories from indigenous communities around the world.

I was heartened to hear the whakatauki “tread softly because you tread on my dreams” as I believe this has strong ties to the stories and heritage that indigenous tourism looks to communicate and showcase.

Today, I would like to reinforce the central role that indigenous perspectives on sustainability and identity can offer in an era of mass tourism. I see a future in Aotearoa where Māori tourism operators are leading innovators, investors and entrepreneurs.

I understand that the theme of this year’s Summit is Whatungarongaro te tangata, toitu te whenua. This theme speaks to the role that indigenous peoples play as kaitiaki of the physical well-being of natural resources, and the responsibility of preserving and protecting these taonga for future generations.

This is a message that is extremely timely, given the movement both here and around the world to recognise impacts on the environment as a result of climate change and strengthen conservation efforts.

There is also a growing desire to achieve higher living standards that are both sustainable and inclusive.

These challenges confront the tourism sector at a time of extraordinary growth worldwide, with eight consecutive years of sustained expansion since 2010. Such uninterrupted solid growth has not been recorded since the 1960s.

This growth has delivered many benefits to communities across the country. This includes employment opportunities, improved transport linkages and a wider range of services and amenities in local communities.

But it has also brought a number of challenges. Increasing congestion and pressure on infrastructure and iconic natural landscapes can frustrate local communities and diminish the experience of visitors.

For indigenous communities, tourism has long presented both opportunities and challenges. I think that the analogy used at this summit of walking a tight rope accurately describes this balancing act. Here in Aotearoa, the tourism industry can and does leverage off Māori culture, and Māori can leverage off tourism.

As well as the Minister of Tourism, I am also the Minister for Crown/Māori Relations. This is a newly created portfolio, and will focus on the opportunities that exist in a post-Treaty settlement environment for Māori. It will also ensure the Crown understands and meets its Treaty obligations and engages properly with Māori organisations on issues.

I am keen to see connections being made across these portfolios. I expect there will be an opportunity to work with iwi who have completed their Treaty settlements, and are keen to get into the tourism market.

We have experienced many of the challenges of rapid tourism growth in New Zealand. International visitor numbers have increased by 6.5% on an annual basis in the past five years, reaching 3.7 million in 2017. Tourism, directly and indirectly, employs about 1 in 7 working New Zealanders and contributes $14.7bn to national GDP.

And yet, in spite of the obvious economic benefits these visitors have brought our country, we are beginning to see some New Zealanders question whether our country has the capacity to sustain growth in visitor numbers.

This has led to both the government and the tourism industry to recognise that further growth requires a more holistic approach, delivering not only economic but social, environmental and cultural benefits as well.

Sustainable tourism

New Zealand’s conservation estate is a prime example of why we need to think more holistically. Our forests, rivers and mountains are an incredible resource, attracting international and domestic visitors into the wilderness in our regions. We must all embrace the concept of kaitiakitanga to carefully manage the impact of visitors and ensure our natural environment is preserved for future generations.

I am proud to be part of a government that places sustainability at the heart of what it does. We recently launched the Provincial Growth Fund, which is investing $1 billion a year into projects that create sustainable jobs; enable Māori to reach their full potential; boost social inclusion; build resilient communities and help meet New Zealand’s climate change targets.

It will come as no surprise that several of the fund’s recent recipients are tourism initiatives, including Manea: Footprints of Kupe Cultural Heritage and Education Centre, which will create over a dozen new jobs and enhance tourism opportunities in the Hokianga and the wider Te Tai Tokerau.

And the Department of Conservation is implementing a series of measures to deal with increased visitor pressure on public conservation land and waters over peak periods. We want to invest to increase DOC’s ability to manage the impact of visitor growth, while also protecting our biodiversity and threatened species.

It is also important for the tourism industry to play a role in driving sustainability efforts. I’ve been heartened by Tourism Industry Aotearoa’s leadership in launching its Tourism Sustainability Commitment last year. Approximately 200 companies and organisations have already signed up to this commitment. This sets out a vision for this country to be leading the world in sustainable tourism by 2025.

The Commitment, which I encourage all tourism operators to adopt, has three Māori values at its core:

Kaitiakitanga – the guardianship and protection of our natural, built and cultural resources for the benefit of current and future generations

Manaakitanga – showing respect, hospitality, generosity and care for others

Whanaungatanga – a relationship through shared experiences and working together which provides people with a sense of belonging.

Whale Watch Kaikōura stands out as an example of a Māori tourism operator placing environmental sustainability at the core of its business model. Since its formation over thirty years ago, Whale Watch has been a kaitiaki over the natural environment it depends upon. This approach has earned it significant international recognition, including the Australasian Responsible Tourism Award at the 2017 World Tourism Awards.

And I’d like to commend Whale Watch for its leadership in helping guide Kaikōura on a path towards recovery following the devastating earthquake in November 2016.

I encourage the wider tourism sector to continue adopting the values many Māori tourism operators place at their core. I believe this country can be a global leader in sustainability, and see Māori business-people as playing a key role in bringing about this transformation.

Māori tourism growth

I’d now like turn to the tremendous potential Māori culture holds as a driver of innovation and growth within the tourism sector in Aotearoa, something that I hope will provide inspiration for many of the indigenous groups represented here today.

Each year, exciting new Māori tourism products are launched, enabling tangata whenua to bring tangible economic and social benefits to their communities through the sharing of their culture, history and stories.

Māori tourism operators conducted more than four million visitor experiences specifically related to the Māori culture in 2017, which is a growth of 3%. It is estimated they employ 14,000 Māori, bringing in over $1.6bn revenue last year alone.

Here in Te Tai Tokerau there are many exciting Māori tourism products on offer, providing visitors with an opportunity to learn about Māori navigational techniques from a master navigator; explore Māori arts and crafts and meet local artists; participate in guided treks through our bush and kauri forest; or experience hunting and fishing expeditions with local Māori guides, learning the wisdom and knowledge passed down through generations.

I’ve often said that our tourism offering is not just our landscapes but the genuine interactions visitors have with the people of Aotearoa. Māori tourism, which incorporates the value of maanakitanga – generosity and hospitality – exemplifies this.

I believe visitors want a connection with locals. They want to know what maunga, awa or moana mean and the stories that connect Māori to them. If they know our stories, then they are much more likely to respect our environment.

We are also fortunate to have Tai Tokerau Resort College, a tertiary provider offering excellent training and pastoral care for tourism and hospitality students, as well as paid internships. It has been a success for both the Bay of Islands and for tourism businesses around Northland and New Zealand, who have access to trained tourism staff.

This kind of professionalism is important for the development of Aotearoa’s tourism sector – to offer tourism as a long-term, worthwhile career. As the skills and tourism knowledge in each region develop, they will be able to better co-ordinate their offerings and plan for the future.

Strong track record of seizing new opportunities

Māori tourism businesses have a strong track record of seizing new commercial opportunities, whether it be investing in astro-tourism or luxury hotels.

And Māori tourism operators are also on the forefront of innovation, exploring new opportunities to deliver memorable and authentic experiences to their customers by harnessing emerging technology.

There are currently a number of iwi redefining what a Māori tourism experience can be through app-based augmented reality; ultra-realistic virtual reality encounters; and digitally-immersive light shows within a marae

Such products offer much promise for enhancing Māori cultural narratives and bringing iwi stories and history to entire new audiences.

As my colleague Nanaia Mahuta said when opening this conference, there is real potential to develop heritage trails linking famous Māori pa and battle sites across many of our regions. Virtual reality could be used to bring the history of these places to life for tourists and locals alike.

Establishment of Maori scholarships

As I have said, Maori have a strong track record of seizing tourism opportunities.

Today, I am pleased to announce four Māori tourism scholarships for students who enrol at the Queenstown Resort College in Paihia.

These tourism scholarships provide an opportunity for rangatahi who have entered study at a tertiary level to broaden and apply what they have learnt. This inaugural initiative and investment in our people is crucial to the long-term sustainability of indigenous tourism.

Conclusion

All of this speaks to tourism’s role in a resurgent Māori economy. I anticipate further investment in tourism-related technology, new cultural experiences, and a network of Māori-owned accommodation and attractions.

As the Minister for Crown/Māori Relations I will be looking at ways that the two portfolios can assist each other.

And with our regions becoming increasingly sophisticated in how they market themselves internationally, I see Māori tourism operators as being well positioned to capitalise on New Zealand’s ongoing tourism success, and taking the stories of their whenua to the world.

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tato katoa…

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