“It’s much more than Hobbits and big mountains”: Here’s how you SHOULD sell New Zealand

Beautiful girl on a swing bridge on the Hooker Valley trail on the South Island of New Zealand.

Generally speaking, when travellers plan a trip to New Zealand they probably have two things in mind: Hobbits and mountains.

We got a rude shock when we found out there were no real Hobbits frolicking through the hills of Matamata, but maybe that says more about us than the destination…

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While attending the Conventions and Incentives New Zealand (CINZ) MEETINGS trade show last week, we had the pleasure of chatting with Karl Wixon, who is the ‘Kaiārahi Māori’ for New Zealand Story.

New Zealand Story is a government-funded program focusing on how the New Zealand tourism industry shares the story of their country with the rest of the world.

Wixon told us they’re trying to move people’s perception beyond Hobbits and big mountains.

My role within New Zealand Story is actually bringing to the surface the Maori side of things and how that becomes part of our national identity and culture and the way we engage and connect,” Wixon told us. 

“It’s not just something we show, its also about how we act, how we greet, how we do all of these things.”

“It’s up to me to find that essence and how we celebrate it. It’s about moving beyond, not leaving behind, the Haka, Hongi, Hangi and Pukana.”

I say that not to belittle these things, these are powerful things but they become the default setting and the default image of Maori which is a very narrow point of view of the culture and all its shades of brown.”

According to Wixon, there has been a big shift in the way Māori tourism operates. He said that the one-dimensional displays of cultural entertainment, or dial-a-Hakka as he called it, reflect a sense of colonial quaintness.

“If you look at early colonial images of Maori its kind of that portrayal as warriors and maidens with lovely children and a lot of that has been mirrored.”

I’m not at all belittling things like those customs and traditions but they’re only one part of a broader offering. Sometimes those things are a contemporary stretch from tradition.”

Wixon said contemporary Māori tourism operators often simply reflect the values and traditions of their culture.

And tourism operators from all walks of life could learn a thing or two from them.

I get sick of tourism opperators talking about their products because you don’t deliver tourism products, you deliver products to help deliver an experience.”

“What you’re doing is you’re experience producers. Maori are very good at experience. Making the hair on the back of your neck tingle, making you feel a bit of love,  making you laugh, that’s the stuff you remember.”

“You’ve got amazing Maori tourism operators but you wouldn’t see their business necessarily as Maori tourism, like the guy that runs Crankworkx and does VIP hosting in Rotorua, which is a very Maori business when you scratch beneath the surface. The way he thinks, the way he hosts, the way he engages, its very Maori. But it’s not being portrayed with the typical Maori imagery.”

Wixon said New Zealand Story is working alongside Tourism New Zealand to switch the narrative of how the country is portrayed to the world.

It’s now less about place and more about people.

I think earlier it would be fair to say New Zealand Story probably saw the job as selling New Zealand. Now it’s about selling New Zealanders.”

“It’s about bringing to life the way others view us; the third party perspective. It’s not about standing out and proclaiming our virtues, it’s about seeing how others see value in us as New Zealand.”

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