The Māori Battalion Museum has re-opened thanks to $4m of Govt funding. Image: Supplied
Waitangi Treaty Grounds was going to shut its doors to the public had it not secured Government help in what was the historic site’s first injection of public money into operational funding since it was established in 1932.
The Waitangi National Trust received $4m from the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage in Budget 2020 to help it survive the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic which chief executive Greg McManus said “was the difference between shutting down and staying open, definitely”.
“We don’t receive any funding from the government for operating at all. A lot of New Zealanders assume we are government funded but we are not, which is partly the reason we have been helped this time,” McManus said.
“We have a very close relationship with the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage because of the role that we play looking after the most important historic site in the country. We basically said to them that without some assistance we will have to close to the public.
“We have no other access to funding, we can’t borrow money because of our legislation so we’re pretty limited with our options. So, we’re really grateful that the Government came through for us.”
About 70% of the trust’s revenue is from tourism, with other income generated from leases to tenants across the estate, but it is “expected to do quite a lot” with its revenue, McManus said.
“We have a major eduction programme, we care for the buildings and the estate and the museums and we do a lot that does not make money – we have to pay for that ourselves. This money will tide us over for the next financial year, which starts in July. Our annual budget is about $6m all up.”
The trust has 56 staff on its books and during summer seasonal staff see this rise to 110.
“We kept all of our permanent staff on full pay until the end of the wage subsidy. At that stage, we had no idea we were going to be helped out by the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage. We wanted to look after our staff who had done a great job for us over the last couple of years,” McManus said.
“We certainly won’t be taking anymore wage subsidy during the period that the funding covers, which kicks in on 1 July, and I’m not sure whether we will [take the subsidy extention] for the rest of June – probably not.”
The Treaty Grounds, which include the Treaty House, Te Kongahu Museum of Waitangi, and the $14.6m Māori Battalion Museum, which opened on Waitangi weekend this year, re-opened on Saturday 16 May with a full visitor experience on offer.
“We had a trickle of visitors. It wasn’t many but we were delighted to have them. Hopefully, it will just increase as we get through this,” McManus said, adding that all efforts will be made to bring tourists back to the attraction, which traditionally receives around 125,000 visitors, from New Zealand and overseas, annually with a further 30,000-40,000 visiting on Waitangi Day every year.
According to McManus, international visitors make up around 55%, with domestic sitting at around 45%, “but that has been changing over the years and going more towards the domestic. I would expect it to be 50-50 in a few more years”.
He added: “We are definitely going to be working hard bringing domestic tourists back and hopefully the trans-Tasman bubble – we are very keen for that to happen as Australia makes up a very large percentage of our international market. So, we are still going to have to work really hard to make ends meet but this will make a huge difference.”
“We are very active with the Bay of Islands marketing group, which focuses firmly on the Auckland so we are going to pivot towards that and spend quite a lot more on the Auckland domestic market, which is pretty key for us.”
“I would say to New Zealanders who have never been or who have not been for the past five or six years that Waitangi has undergone a complete transformation and I would just encourage them to come and reconnect with their history.”
Waitangi National Trust chair, Pita Tipene, said: “Our mission is to demonstrate the ongoing promise of Waitangi to the World and this funding will enable the Trust to continue to deliver on that mission. I encourage all New Zealanders, Māori, Pakeha and New-New Zealanders alike, to visit Waitangi during this time when the usual crowds of international visitors are absent. It is a perfect time to reconnect with Waitangi and with our shared heritage as citizens of Aotearoa.”
Northland Inc’s general manager of destination, Tania Burt, said she was grateful for the funding.
“This is fantastic news for Northland,” she said.
“The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is one of Northland’s and New Zealand’s great icons, and we need Waitangi to be there for the recovery of tourism in Northland”.
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