Maori tourism interest
Entwining Queenstown's cultural landscape is the key to meeting a $41 billion tourism target. Mary-Jo Tohill reports.
Queenstown had better brush-up on its local legends if it wants to help meet the national target of $41 billion in tourism earnings by 2025.
And the incorporation of both Maori and European stories into tourists' experiences was the way to do it, New Zealand Maori Tourism regions and operations director Butch Bradley said.
Visiting Queenstown from Wellington this week to meet with Maori tourism operators including Ngai Tahu Tourism, businesses and council, Bradley also said the key to success lay with investment, not just in monetary terms, but in reviving and entwining old stories, from the area's early European settlement and its not-so-well known Maori legends.
For instance, hundreds of years before the high-country sheep station Walter Peak was won in a coin-toss and became Queenstown's famous tourist attraction, it was the stuff of Maori legends.
Famous princess Hakitekura was reputed to have swum across the freezing-cold Lake Wakatipu, navigating by the dawn's first light that "twinkled and winked" from the tops of Cecil and Walter Peaks.
Their Maori name is Ka-kamu-a-Hakitekura, the twinkling seen by Hakitekura. Her memory and legend is sacred to Maori people today.
"Tourism is not just about getting a buck, it's about giving tourists the story - a story experience," Bradley said.
In the land of Kia ora, jandals and the Kiwi, our biggest asset was not necessarily mountains and lakes, because visiting tourists had probably seen higher and bigger.
It was about Aotearoa's stories and people, he said. "Pretty much everyone who comes here have been somewhere else, so their standards are quite high."
While Queenstown attracted about 1.9 million of the 3.2 million people who visited the country every year, it was going to have to "up its game" to achieve New Zealand Tourism's aspirational goals of increasing the annual tourist spend from about $24 billion to $41 billion.
This included domestic and international travellers.
Maori tourism's members, from about 200 businesses throughout New Zealand, needed to be ready to meet this challenge, he said.
"People want more because they're travelling more, and most people have enjoyed story-telling, to take something of the country away with them … that's typical of what we're seeing elsewhere."
Ngai Tahu kaumatua Michael Skerrett believed tourism was just part of the picture. He hoped to see more of a fusion of Maori and European elements into Queenstown's "cultural landscape".
The Invercargill-based Maori elder also believed the town's small Maori population had been a contributing factor in the culture's low profile.
However, compared with 2006 statistics, the 2013 census showed an increase in the Maori population of 12.5 per cent, with 1428 people living in the Queenstown-Lakes District.
Skerrett, who has a regular presence in Queenstown, said he had been heartened by the efforts to incorporate some aspects of Maori culture.
"There's gradually getting to be a bit more of this, but we need to keep working on it."
Positive examples include use of the original Maori names clearly visible in Queenstown's rejuvenated courthouse precinct or Te Taum ata, now the 1876 Bar, and Tahu na, the new courthouse and birthplace-site of legendary Maori princess Hakitekura and her father Tuwiriroa, along with Te Nuku, the precinct's central commercial building.
Ngai Tahu had long recognised that Queenstown was fertile ground for its business interests, with its entry into the tourism industry in the 1990s, when it purchased a controlling stake in Shotover Group, which owned a number of operations in Queenstown, Taupo and Rotorua, namely Shotover Jet, Dart River Jet Safaris, Hukafalls Jet, Hollyford Guided Walk and Rainbow Springs.
By 2004 the iwi had taken full ownership and since then had continued to expand its tourism operations.
Tourism investment had also helped Ngai Tahu re-connect with "areas of significant historical importance", Skerrett said.