Culture, community and Whale Watch Kaikōura

Strong leadership at a local level and sheer hard work have helped Whale Watch Kaikōura become the international success it is today, according to general manager Kauahi Ngapora.

Kauahi Ngapora

In a powerful presentation at the Tourism Export Council conference in Te Anau, Ngapora shared the journey of his organisation, which was founded in 1987 in Kaikōura during a time of significant hardship for Māori with 90% unemployment.

It began with four local whanau mortgaging their houses to start the business, with a vision of creating “something better for their people” by creating employment and an economic base for Ngāti Kuri.

In an address themed around community and culture, some 250 delegates heard of fierce opposition to the company from the local non-Māori population at a time when “tourism was a dirty word” in the South Island town.

Ngapora emphasised just how strained community relations were during the company’s difficult fledgling years, when vessels and engines were sabotaged, death threats made and one of Whale Watch’s buses fire bombed and completely burnt out.

However, strong local leadership, including from the late Bill Solomon, “resisted more volatile views of retribution” against these wrongs and guided the community towards improved relations.

This included the leadership putting a lot of time and effort in engaging with many of the long-term non-Māori families around Kaikōura to “break down barriers and build bridges for the future”.

A targeted approach to bring these families into the fold begun, which was likely the first time Māori were employing non-Māori in Kaikōura history.

He set out how this integration over time turned these families into strong advocates of the business.

Early leadership also expended significant effort to lift the poor community view on tourism in the town. As opportunities to invest came along and more locals were employed in tourism they became strong advocates for tourism.

Speaking on culture and business, Ngapora acknowledged that while the 100%-Maori owned company had a lot to learn about the tourism industry and business, the concept of tikanga was well understood.

He explained that early leadership were quick to integrate beliefs such as Kaitiakitanga, Manaakitanga, Whanaungatanga and He Tangata into the fabric of how the business ticked.

He added: “The business from its foundations has been focused on the long game, with a focus on intergenerational planning, so the decisions you make today are for your future, much like the Cathedral Thinking concept discussed yesterday.”

Finally, he shared the company’s values,“The 5 C’s”:

Customer – Manaakitanga.

  • Welcoming visitors, hosting them well and treating them as whanau is a core belief for Māori, those of us lucky enough to spend time growing up on our Marae know first-hand what this means.
  • Like the Marae, the same belief can be cultivated within your business through a whanau centric approach to customer service and experience delivery.
  • Looking after our manuhiri.

Company – Tino Rangatiratanga.

  • This about mana, empowerment and being able to do what you want to rather than what you have to do.
  • Making sure you have and maintain a strong foundation to sustain your people, enabling you to shape your own destiny and support the aspirations for the future.
  • Build and maintain a whanau centric culture within the business.
  • Having a strong business.

Community – Iwi Whanui.

  • Whale Watch considers itself a locally owned business that plays an active role in supporting the long-term well being of our community.
  • The community is as much a part of Whale Watch as Whale Watch is a part of the community.
  • This encompasses all aspects of our community, Māori and non-Māori.
  • We look to bring our community along for the ride.

Conservation – Kaitiakitanga.

  • As a Māori business with an intergenerational outlook it is important we do what we can to ensure that what we have today can be experienced by future generations.
  • We have the most to lose if we don’t do our bit to help conserve the environment our future relies on.
  • As kaitiaki we have a responsibility to protect our local environment and the toanga within it.
  • Our visitors expect us to be operating in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Culture – Whakapapa

  • We must always consider where we have come from as we shape our pathways for the future.
  • Culture is what shapes us, from the deeds of our Tipuna through to our current endeavours that our future generations will reflect on as we have done.
  • Culture is what truly connects us to a place, the ocean and the whales.
  • This is your history, embrace it, cherish it and share it.
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