From Potaka to Mohaka

It is with that statement, and with many heads in the room nodding in agreement, a Māori tourism workshop held in the Te Puni Kōkiri office in Gisborne began last week.

Published: Rāmere, 07 Paengawhāwhā, 2017 | Friday, 7 April 2017

It is with that statement, and with many heads in the room nodding in agreement, a Māori tourism workshop held in the Te Puni Kōkiri office in Gisborne began last week.

Participants included members from local iwi groups, Te Rūnanga o Turanga Nui a Kiwa; Te Rūnanganui o Ngāti Porou; Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa, local Māori tourism operators and Activate Tairāwhiti, the local economic development agency, and Kimihia He Oranga, who produced the recent Tairawhiti Māori Economic development Report.

Facilitated by Andrew Te Whaiti, former CE of Te Puia in Rotorua and former Regional Manager for Te Puni Kōkiri, the purpose of the workshop was to discuss and develop a shared view of what Māori tourism is across the Tairāwhiti region.

Findings from the Tairāwhiti Māori Economic Development Report released earlier this year suggest that tourism packages such as pōwhiri, hunting, fishing charters, hāngi, kapahaka, guided historical tours, eco-tourism and arts and crafts were activities that could be established quite easily.

However, the report also highlighted that “promotion of Māori tourism products, to draw the right consumer, needs a more sophisticated approach.”

“Tourism, across Aotearoa generally, is in a boom, visitors are increasing, so it’s a good time to get in to the industry.  The market is screaming out for more authentic cultural experiences and big transport carriers like Air New Zealand are aware of the demand to push more tourists out in to the regions.  So the task for the room was to come up with a really clever hook and well packaged tourism product to market to these prospective visitors,” said Mr Te Whaiti.

Sounds easy enough, but the task is not without its challenges.

There are already a number of offerings for a marae experience in New Zealand so it is a competitive space.

The geographical distance from main ports will always be perceived as a bit of a barrier, even with improved service from main carriers.

And while iconic landmarks like the East Cape and the East Cape Lighthouse already draw significant numbers of visitors and tourists each year, without any concerted marketing, Huti Watson from Te Araroa pointed out that neither of these sites are adequately equipped to cope with the sheer volume of people that descend upon them each year.

“The facilities around the Cape and the Lighthouse need upgrading – at peak periods the place is often covered in litter and rubbish and the toilets are always overrun.  So at a minimum an investment in infrastructure needs to occur before any kind of packaging and marketing takes place on a wider scale around Māori tourism on the coast,” says Ms Watson.

The sentiment was echoed by many in the room with a particular emphasis on improving bathroom facilities across the coast.  It is an integral part of providing good manaakitanga and being good hosts.

It was equally clear however that any investment in infrastructure needed to be provided by regional councils, and not come out of any Māori tourism development funding pools.

“The coast has been neglected – its time for all iwi to get together and collectively lobby regional councils for enhanced focus on our rural and coastal areas, especially given the potential for Māori tourism here,” said Ms Watson.

There was general agreement that support from local bodies and Tourism Eastland was critical to the success of any Māori tourism ventures across the coast, but engagement with these entities has been difficult in the past.

“The cultural element, in terms of the way Tairāwhiti tourism is marketed, is invisible.  Our stories aren’t included and there’s a lot of emphasis on Gisborne,” said Ani Pahuru-Huriwai from Wharekahika, “yet we know that tourists come here for two reasons 1. Scenery, 2. Culture.”

Ms Pahuru-Huriwai runs a community owned venture called Matakaoa Cultural Tours in Wharekahika, but, like other small tourism businesses in the area, has found it difficult to sustain in the off-peak season.

“People have to survive so if paid work comes up they must take it.  Several of our people got their guiding qualifications, but now live in Australia.”

“It’s certainly been my experience that lone ventures in a cultural tourism landscape tend not to be feasible in the long run.  There definitely has to be a smorgasbord of offerings, marketed as a package, with a compelling ‘hook’ to bring people in,” said Mr Te Whaiti.

When Mr Te Whaiti suggested that the group think about a unique marketing “hook” that symbolised the Tairawhiti, Te Runanganui o Ngāti Porou Chair, Selwyn Parata contributed the legendary tipuna “Maui”. It wasn’t long before the connection between marketing ‘hook’ and Māui’s hook was made, and a marketing narrative for Māori tourism on the east coast, was born.

“This is where Aotearoa was born, because this is where Māui hooked the fish,” said Jody Wyllie of Rongowhakaata.

Next steps include the development of a framework which will have a three-fold purpose i.e. to more fully develop a marketing hook based on the Māui narrative; to recognise the need for improved infrastructure and services to cater to increased visitor numbers across the region; and, development of a facilitation type service or role that Te Puni Kōkiri will provide to maintain ongoing traction and progress in this space.