Ngāi Tahu Tourism chief executive Quinton Hall on sustainability, the living wage and the busy year that was 2017, plus the challenges and opportunities ahead for the iwi-owned tourism operator.
It has been a big year, not just for Ngāi Tahu Tourism but also for the tourism industry. We saw continued strength in visitor numbers and spend, extra funding for infrastructure, lots of debate about taxes and a strong shift towards sustainability. We also welcomed a new Tourism Minister.
For us, as always, we have been focused on health and safety which is an integral part of what we do. It’s not just about audits and accreditation, although that is clearly important – it is about having a culture that is focused on health, safety and wellbeing. As hosts, we are responsible for our manuhiri, taking care of people while they are with us is a privilege and is critical to having a successful business. I think the industry as a whole has continued to lift its game in this area which is great to see.
When I look back on the year, one of the positives for me was the announcement of the Tourism Infrastructure Fund. Our businesses are located primarily in regional destinations including Queenstown, Glenorchy, Franz Josef, Taupō and Rotorua – areas with high visitor numbers but small ratepayer bases. It is great to see that the Government has listened to the industry’s concerns and the fund is a big step in the right direction.
However, it is still short of what is needed. There is still pressure on infrastructure and a need for investment in activities, accommodation and product development as well. In light of this, we support the notion of a ‘tourist tax’ to address the funding gap, but realise it would need careful consideration in terms of implementation and around allocation of funds.
We saw continued growth in visitor numbers but accommodation pressures and pricing are starting to drive people away from the main tourism centres in peak season. We as an industry will need to keep track of the variations in travel patterns that this will bring. Also, when you then add exchange rate fluctuations on top of that, it’s likely that visitor spend will be affected, so this is a challenge we will have to manage.
This year has seen an even greater focus on sustainability and it is great to see the industry moving towards actively working to protect the environment and our resources for future generations. It was a ‘no brainer’ for us to sign up to the New Zealand Tourism Sustainability Commitment, launched at the recent Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) Summit. This is one way we can show our commitment to looking after Aotearoa so it can be enjoyed by us and our children after us.
At the TIA Summit, the new Kaiwhakahaere (Chair) of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, Lisa Tumahai, was able to share some insights about the future of Ngāi Tahu, including its commitment to moving toward the living wage over time. Looking after our team is central to our values, and this includes paying wages that reflect the valuable work they do and ensures they can pay for life’s necessities.
This year we also welcomed our new Tourism Minister, Kelvin Davis, who is excited about the potential for tourism to support Māori economic development. He says he sees “immense opportunity for Māori to continue to develop businesses around their culture, history and stories”.
Tourism provides us with the ability to promote Ngāi Tahu heritage, culture and values and to strengthen our presence in the domestic and international marketplace. We believe when visitors come to Aotearoa they are looking for experiences they can’t get anywhere else, underpinned by adventure, nature and culture.
To ensure that we do this in the right way, we have spent the last couple of years really focusing on our purpose, which is to make the connection with our customers, through our people, to our place and to Ngāi Tahu.
We have a range of iconic businesses throughout Aotearoa and we employ people not just from here but from all around the world. As part of their time with us, we are proud to share our knowledge of Ngāi Tahu with them. Storytelling is a huge part of tourism and something that will continue to be a big focus for us.
As we head into 2018 and beyond, we recognise the tourism industry is facing significant challenges. How can we lead more sustainable businesses? How can we offer our team the living wage? What do we do about worker accommodation in places like Queenstown and Tekapo? What effect will rising accommodation prices have on our experiences?
These questions aren’t easy to answer, but they are challenges that we aren’t going to shy away from. We are committed to being kaitiaki (stewards) of the environment, we have the support of the iwi to provide stable employment and incomes, and we are constantly responding to changes in our target markets, particularly China, where there has been a lot of movement particularly in the group market.
Visitor numbers in the last year have been strong and we want to ensure it gets better in the coming year.
In terms of what lies ahead for us, it’s all about sustainable growth. We will continue to actively invest in our people, our experiences and our infrastructure, and to improve our experiences based on customer feedback.
We also have a number of greenfield developments on the go including the new building and astro-tourism experience being developed with Earth & Sky in Lake Tekapo and the potential development of a premium hot pools and spa complex in Queenstown.
We will look for targeted growth opportunities that make sense from a customer perspective in the way that Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters, Dart Stables and our partnership with Earth & Sky did.
We will continue to learn from the people that we work with, and from our customers. We recognise that without our partners, we wouldn’t have achieved what we have today. Part of our success comes from building strong and enduring relationships between our businesses, the wider tourism industry, government, rūnanga and other iwi.
As the industry gears up for the busy summer season, I’d like to wish everyone a very Meri Kirihimete from Ngāi Tahu Tourism and hope that you all have a strong, successful season ahead.