Waka business among those steering into calmer waters

Māori tourism businesses say a targeted funding boost helped to keep their waka steady during turbulent times.

Tourism was always an important part of Waka Abel Tasman’s business.
Photo: Waka Abel Tasman

It has been just over a year since the government announced a $ 15 million funding boost over two years for Māori tourism operators.

It’s being delivered by New Zealand Māori Tourism as a business support program to safeguard operators in the short term and help them prepare for the future.

It has been a wobbly few years for Waka Abel Tasman but its co-owner Lee-Anne Jago (Ngāti Māhuta, Ngāti Pou, Ngāti Raukawa) said there were smoother waters ahead.

That was partly due to the support they have received from the government-funded business support program, she said.

Tourism was always an important part of their business, but when international visitors dried up, Jago said the funding meant they could put their energy into cultural education for schools and corporate events.

“That funding really helped us look at the needs of each of those sectors and also understand what language they speak, what are their needs.”

When combined with other government support, she said they were confident to add a fourth waka to their fleet.

“We were able to grow a sector in a way that felt strong enough to actually buy another waka, and so now what that means is we can take bigger corporate groups. We also, when corporates aren’t coming and schools aren’t coming , we’ve got capability of taking more tourists. “

She was feeling more positive about business.

“We’ve got some optimism going into the next tourism season. We’ve been interacting with agents that feel optimistic.

“We’ve already had some international visitors engage with us. Last week, we had our first international family. We feel like the horizon line has really changed for us and it’s opening up.”

Waka Abel Tasman school group

Waka Abel Tasman has moved into cultural education for schools and corporate events with the help of some government funding.
Photo: Waka Abel Tasman

Funding pays for website improvements

Up north in Hawke’s Bay, Morere Hot Springs Lodge co-owner Julie Redman said they got some website support as part of the funding.

“I’m not very tech savvy, and they were very helpful in giving us multiple hours of help and getting that off the ground with a lot of the back end stuff that I just didn’t know. That’s been very useful.”

She was grateful for the calls from NZ Māori Tourism checking in, saying it made a difficult time feel less isolating.

The Australians were slowly returning and they have had a few bookings from the UK.

Redman hoped that the nearby DOC -run Mōrere Hot Springs – currently open three days a week – would open more days to help spread the demand.

Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Māori Development, said about 1000 operators were estimated to work in the Māori tourism sector.

Roughly 400 businesses have received individual support through the funding, ranging from intensive assistance during the two years, to small grants.

“The Tāpoi Business Support Program has provided timely, direct support for operators and, at any one time, there have been over 150 support applications on hand. Marketing remains the most in-demand service, as operators get ready to welcome visitors.

“The program also provides expertise and assistance to help businesses in complying with things like health and safety changes.

“Throughout the last two years, as support has been provided, we have seen that more than half of the sector has been adversely affected. In the last six months, Māori businesses reported another very difficult period, with some having to reduce parts of their business and a few closing their doors, “the ministry said.

“Others are gearing up for the return of international visitors by starting their marketing activities or upgrading their facilities. A small percentage of businesses are doing well, as bookings return for next summer.”

The support included operators receiving personal phone calls from NZ Māori Tourism and the Karakia Tumu Whakawātea – a cultural wealth initiative of twice -weekly karakia and general discussions.

“We know that the funding for 2021/22 has made a difference in both supporting the sector now and helping position the sector for the future.

“We can see that, with the provision of bespoke business support services and the borders opening, the sector can begin to receive international visitors with more confidence.”

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