Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson is in Rotorua today after an announcement of a funding boost for Māori housing in Hamilton yesterday. This guest opinion piece was written to coincide with the announcement made in Rotorua.
You can't deny that the Rotorua tourism industry has taken a huge hit because of Covid-19 – many whānau were adversely affected. Their life depended on tourism because to them, whakapapa and tourism are interwoven. Generation after generation have been tour guides.
But in 2020, Covid-19 started to claim lives worldwide, at rates comparable to a Hollywood apocalyptic movie. Rotorua whānau soon realised their connection to tourism was about to come to an abrupt halt. While many would call the phenomenon an unprecedented event in the tourism industry, one only needs to cast their mind back 135 years ago to another event: the Tarawera eruption in 1886.
For my wife and I, Rotorua is like a second home. Our whānau have a papakāinga overlooking Lake Tarawera. Often I look at the lake and that majestic maunga and wonder what this area must have looked like before the eruption.
Intrepid tourists flocked here to see the Pink and White Terraces, which were considered the eighth wonder of the world. However, that fame was short-lived; when Papatūānuku would swallow the Terraces on that fateful night, it devastated most of the surrounding landscape, killing more than 150 people. Whānau homes were buried, many never to be seen again. With the destruction of the Terraces, the Rotorua tourism industry was thought to be over. Back then, I'm sure all hope was lost.
But Desmond Tutu said once, "hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness".
So, with the tragic loss of life and the Terraces, came the creation of a geothermal eco-system that to this day, attracts a new breed of intrepid tourist. Ones that use bikes to scream down mountainsides and discover all the wonders that Rotorua beholds.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Although this Government can't create the marvels Mother Nature manages to, we can plant an economic recovery seed in the Māori tourism industry, one that will help Māori tourism operators in Rotorua and across New Zealand, who were affected by the pandemic.
A $15 million seed over the next two years, we hope, will begin the regrowth of the Māori tourism industry. Now that the transtasman bubbles with Australia and the Cook Islands are open, this seed could be the spark, which ignites a light to boost the industry.
Sure there are going to be sceptics. Those who will criticise the amount saying "it's not enough and the problem is too big". But you have to start somewhere.
Our Government took a steady and safe approach through the pandemic, which worked. It invested $33m into NZ Māori tourism, which helped support more than 600 Māori businesses to pivot, transition or hibernate. Now is the time to start investing in the Māori tourism sector in an attempt to bring back jobs and support small businesses.
I'll leave you with one last quote from Bob Marley; "So remember you are the light and you have the power to overcome the darkness that exists in the world. Light up the darkness."
- Willie Jackson is a Labour MP and the Māori Development Minister