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Fresh focus for tourism board

HAMISH M ACLEAN
Last updated 05:00 24/10/2012
Tai Tokerau tourism

CULTURAL AUTHENTICITY: Unique experiences are a factor in growing the tourism sector.

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Northern News

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The Tai Tokerau Maori Tourism Association has new life and a new direction.

This month four new members were elected to its board.

Teresa Hart is expected to remain, but has yet to be re-elected.

But the new additions - Hone Mihaka, as chairperson, and Shane Lloyd, Mike Shaw, Marie Martin and Peter Kitchener - are eager for the challenge.

Mr Shaw says earlier discussions pointed to the need for a fresh beginning. New tourism opportunities in Kaikohe, based on its traditional strengths, need overarching support.

He saw the need for a tourism board that could respond to local needs.

The infrastructure for that support was there already, he learned, but the organisation needed new life.

Mr Shaw says that the strategy of the tourism association is to help build a broad base of smaller operators and to support those who contribute to Northland's vast cultural capital to realise their potential.

"That's the lifeblood, that's where the real juice is going to come from," Mr Shaw says.

Highlighting the success of potential tourism-based businesses and linking them to a larger market, he says, is a key to Northland's growth.

There is a lot of talent in the cultural sector that he says has yet to be highlighted.

And he thinks it's important to recognise the unique experiences available to visitors when considering how to grow the tourism sector in Northland.

"The Northland experience is more authentic," he says. Mr Shaw says that the experience that many international visitors have of New Zealand's cultural heritage has become theme-park like and can't offer the level of participation that visitors should expect.

Human capital is one of the area's greatest assets, he says.

Mr Shaw says that the tourism association had become ineffective at promoting the region in its last iteration.

"My personal opinion is that they forgot their primary purpose, which is to foster Maori tourism," he says.

He says that it's currently difficult to produce a list of current members of the Tai Tokerau Maori Tourism Association.

Strengthening existing ties and reaching out to the community is likely to be the association's next step.

"The approach that we're looking at is - instead of going ‘here's what we can offer you' . . . we're looking at ‘what do you need? How can we help you?' "

Advice, mentoring and helping operators getting their product to the market will continue to be a strong component of what the tourism association offers.

"How are people in Auckland going to know about what you're offering?" he says.

Te Tai Tokerau District Maori Council and Te Puni Kokiri (Ministry of Maori Development) have both signalled support for the new venture by the tourism association.

Mr Shaw calls that support very significant. But he says that despite the support from the top, it's what Mr Shaw calls "flax roots" support that will make tourism flourish in Northland.

"What's going to stimulate the economy is [people] running small businesses," he says. "A collective of operators doing their thing will produce more jobs and more opportunities - those are the export dollars coming in."

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On November 8 at 10am, the association will meet at Kohewhata marae in Kaikohe to set out its objectives and plan its way forward.

"I don't think anybody would object if some local people turned up and wanted to discuss matters or ask questions," Mr Shaw says.

- Northern News

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