January 13, 2016

An Open Letter to Tourism New Zealand and Qualmark

My  partner and I opted to become domestic tourists this summer and undertook an epic road trip from Auckland in the North to Nugget Point in the South. We stayed with friends, family and at holiday parks on the way, engaging with a number of tourist operators, going on boat trips, to art galleries etc. As part of this journey, we encountered many international tourists curious about our country.

As domestic tourists, we came with a base-line understanding of the history of Aotearoa, Te Reo and tikanga Māori. We were disappointed that many of the tourist operators we encountered, including those with Qualmark endorsements, did not seem to share this basic understanding. We note the following concerns from our travels:

  • We frequently encountered operators’ mispronunciation of basic kupu Māori and place names. Despite Te Taura Whiri I te Reo Māori longstanding recommendation of the use of macrons, in part to aid correct pronunciation, this practice does not seem wide-spread within the tourism sector.
  • A number of tourism operators share local history as part of their service. Frequently this history is white-washed. By that we mean operators talk about European “discovery” of sites, resources etc. This denies and minimises Māori history. We found operators rarely named local iwi or hapū, speaking as if Māori were one people rather than many nations. When challenged about this misleading history an operator noted their longevity in the district and sector as a justification, rather than reflect on concerns raised about accuracy.
  • During part of our journey we were in town when a cruise boat came in. We found a local retailer selling Chinese sourced jade to tourists as South Island pounamu at bargain basement rates. When questioned they maintained the pounamu was sourced in Blenheim which seemed implausible. We felt this non-Māori businesses’ practices were unethical and a missed opportunity to explain the significance of pounamu.

Tourists come to New Zealand for a holiday, to relax and to learn more about a new country. From our travel experience, some of our tourist operators are ripping off and misleading tourists.

We would like to know: do the Qualmark programme currently addresses issues of cultural competency amongst tourist operators and their staff? If not we recommend they be included. What controls exist for consumers to ensure they are buying New Zealand pounamu versus overseas sourced jade? If there are none we recommend an accreditation or similar program.

It was great to get reacquainted with Aotearoa as tourists this summer, but we are disappointed at the level of engagement with Te Ao Māori of many of the non-Māori operators we encountered. We encourage you to take action to lift the cultural competencies of the tourism sector.

Ngā mihi
Heather Came

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