One Question Quiz
Te Ara o Rehua, the dark sky experience in Takapō is a classic example of a regenerating Astro tourism experience (Image: Getty)
Te Ara o Rehua, the dark sky experience in Takapō is a classic example of a regenerating Astro tourism experience (Image: Getty)

ĀteaDecember 3, 2022

How Māori tourism is sharing our land and stories with manuhiri

Te Ara o Rehua, the dark sky experience in Takapō is a classic example of a regenerating Astro tourism experience (Image: Getty)
Te Ara o Rehua, the dark sky experience in Takapō is a classic example of a regenerating Astro tourism experience (Image: Getty)

The last two years have taught us a lot about our reliance on our tourism industry, but how has indigenous tourism fared? And what does that mean for the future of Aotearoa tourism?

In the midst of lockdowns, alert levels and border restrictions, small tourist destination towns like Taupō, Kaikoura and Kororāreka (Russell) were deserted by their usual throngs of visitors. As cruise ships were halted, flights abandoned and the ability to venture much further than the local supermarket was restricted, our tourism sector suffered immensely. 

While domestic visitor numbers at tourism attractions saw an increase over the last two years – an uptick in domestic visitor numbers on the Great Walks is just one example – there was no making up for the loss of millions of international tourists who come to see our unique landscapes and enjoy our Pacific hospitality.

Some of the largest shareholders in tourism activities, ranging from adventure to wellness or accommodation providers, are Māori or iwi-based. While other companies tried to find ways to fill the gaps left by internationals, many indigenous tourism providers used the last two years to welcome domestic visitors while also taking the time to reset, re-evaluate and reconceptualise how indigenous tourism can lead the wider industry into the future. 

Associate professor Anna Carr from the University of Otago has studied the many intricacies of indigenous tourism – its unique longevity and its place in the wider Aotearoa ecosystem, and spoke to The Spinoff about how indigenous tourism will take us into the future.

Waitomo’s glow worms have long been a drawcard for international tourists (Photo: Getty Images)

There’s a perception that indigenous tourism is all cultural experiences or specifically ‘Māori experiences’ – but is it wider than that?

I think worldwide, people’s understanding of what indigenous tourism is, from a community perspective and indigenous perspective, is being transformed. When you’re looking at your cultural heritage being commodified for tourism experiences, or it might be that it’s non commercial (i.e. educational experiences) – people are realising that they are encountering living cultures spanning the cultural landscape that you’re within and the social networks and the communities that surround it.

There’s a lot more awareness that these experiences aren’t just commodified stereotypical ones, there’s an array of experiences that are very place-based and community centric. 

What can indigenous tourism offer to pique that engagement that other tourism offerings may not be able to?

Within Aotearoa and in other areas where people have concerns like “land back”, social rights and environmental issues, there’s a strong awareness that indigenous tourism is potentially going to be more immersive within local landscapes and there’s a need for visitor behaviour and visitor understanding to be challenged. 

Te Ara o Rehua, the dark sky experience in Takapō with iwi Kai Tahu is a classic example of a regenerating Astro tourism experience. They’ve got indigenous Kai Tahu elements and broader Māori dark sky knowledge and mātauranga Māori being presented within the broader context of global astronomy and dark sky knowledge. In terms of visitor behaviour and visitor response to what’s being presented, people want authentic experiences, they don’t want to have a commodified culture anymore. They want to genuinely engage.

For local Māori in Rotorua, tourism has been seen as a commodification of culture, and conversely as a tool to maintain tikanga and mātauranga. (Image: Tina Tiller)

Then Covid-19 hit – obviously that disrupted international tourism on a level that I don’t know if anyone’s seen before or anyone expected. What were the effects of that on indigenous tourism?

It’s not just Covid-19, it’s also climate change – that’s the double whammy. In the last five years there have been really serious weather events that have affected a lot of our nature-based operators. A lot of them are indigenous operators, and many of them are non-indigenous, but I think they’ve got a shared experience in that respect. 

If they’re land-based, and they’re community based, they’ve got that emotional attachment to the land to draw strength from, and they’ve got that support from the community to actually draw strength to get them through it. So you could almost say that they’re nurtured and nourished through this terrible time, by the cultural ties to the landscapes that they’re in. 

But that’s not everyone. People who’ve been removed from those landscapes, for instance workers losing their jobs have had to pivot and seek new ways of making incomes. Many Māori tourism operators had to plan for new markets, or diversification into other sectors, while in some cases they rely on whānau support to get them through.

What role do you see indigenous tourism playing on the future of tourism in Aotearoa? 

I think it’s hard to separate the impacts and how it’s going to go into the future from other businesses, but I have a lot of faith in indigenous and Māori tourism, because of that strong sense of responsibility to the landscape that they operate within. 

There’s a resilience there. When you look at how people have been aware of the impact of Covid on the tourism sector, and now the shortage of staff, the industry needs to have professionalism and a long term commitment to the environment and people. I think the Māori tourism operators, because of their whanaungatanga and the commitment to family and whānau, are potentially going to lead the way there.

They’re encouraging and nurturing rangatahi in the sector, so regarding tourism as a professional career choice that can benefit communities and the environment is something that I think will emerge more and more from the involvement of indigenous tourism operators and workers.

They’re the ones who are delivering that manaaki to the visitors, but they’re also the kaitiaki of the lands.

Keep going!