Tourism, our bread and butter, is looking at how it can attract the golden goose of tourists back to our shores. They see New Zealand (67 per cent of our visitors) encouraging their citizens to travel within, instead of overseas.
The good news for us is we can jump on this band wagon of the New Zealand bubble, because we are them, we are their ancestors, we can market to Kiwis, “welcome home to paradise!”
The surprising part is most of them don’t know it.
I’ve been working in tourism for over 30 years, the last six years in Rarotonga. Through wars, financial collapse, civil unrest, bombings, natural disasters and health scares, one constant factor I’ve found is people will continue to travel if the borders are open.
And New Zealand families and couples are creatures of habit, and many will return to the same beach or island (many go to Fiji) year after year. That’s a fact we could play in our favour, with our Covid-19 free status (unlike Fiji).
As a village history guide, MC and host at Te Vara Nui cultural dinner and show, I have taught on average 200 people per week our history, and how it connects to New Zealand Māori.
After speaking to 50,000 people in the past six years, It always fascinates me how many Kiwis don’t know the seven vaka they speak of so frequently as “The Great Migration” actually started here on the shores of Rarotonga.
And the names of the vaka became names of New Zealand Māori tribal confederations.
New Zealand Māori from Tainui iwi, one of the largest in New Zealand, sit in the history hut, eyes wide open, to the revelation. They say to me how similar they find the language here, and how it feels like coming home.
They soon realise it’s because they are home.
Of course, many Pakeha or Papa‘a are equally surprised and wonder, “why is it not taught in schools in New Zealand?”
I ask the same question. They are presently and mostly concerned with Captain Cook’s arrival and influence, they’ve limited their knowledge of their historical roots.
Ask New Zealand Māori where they come from? They say “Hawaiki” and to some extent hope or like to believe it’s Hawai’i, not knowing that Hawai’i was one of the last islands to be populated and then from the East Polynesian islands of Tahiti and Marquesas, similar to us. They are us.
This is an untapped market, we’ve never fully focused on, but could use to our greatest advantage now.
I often commented to Cook Islands Tourism, “why do we have an office in mainland China? How do you expect our little islands to cater to two billion people?”
New Zealand Māori are a great source of income, they travel in small and large groups, frequent all the cultural shows and excursions, and purchase from the small markets, local shops, tattoos and businesses around the island.
They don’t limit themselves to large resorts where all their funds and focus remain within the four walls of the establishment. They get out, and they get us.
It’s a win-win.
They love being part of the culture and they like to promote us as we are, not some frilly depiction of island life.
They’re grateful for the learning, they visit the site of the migrations and they go home with not just a happy, fun, experience but with a connection, and a love for our culture and people they didn’t realise before.
We could empower and grow the connection between our countries and culture when we promote to NZ post-Covid-19.
Kia orana, Kia ora and welcome home to paradise.