Tourism stands out as a huge opportunity for the Maori economy, benefitting the whole of New Zealand, according to a business advisory expert.
Kylee Potae, Head of the Maori Sector group for global business and accountancy network BDO, says the accepted figure for the Maori economy is now $50 billion, boosted by various iwi as they expand their business interests well into the Treaty of Waitangi post-settlement phase.
That figure will only increase when Ngapuhi, the biggest iwi in the country, settle their treaty claim before 2020, the deadline for all such claims to be completed.
However Potae says the Maori economy is poised to grow even without Ngapuhi and other iwi who have yet to complete the claims process - and that Maori tourism will be one of the principal drivers.
"There is a hunger for Maori tourism," she says. "After all, it is our national point of difference to everywhere else in the world and so many of our visitors are keen to experience it."
Since the first treaty settlements were agreed, the Maori economy has grown to $50b on the back of investments and assets like hotels, farms, forests, bus companies and shopping malls, among other concerns. However, Potae notes that most Maori business (just under 30 per cent) is still lodged in primary industries like agriculture, forestry and fishing with just under 20 per cent in property and business services.
To spread their wings wider than primary industries, tourism is a key growth area for iwi, she says, typified by BDO's work with Ngati Porou and their Experience Hikurangi project.
Mt Hikurangi, near Gisborne and East Cape, is a place of spiritual significance to the iwi, who operate tramping and four-wheel-drive tours of the mountain, complete with instruction into its place in their lives and how a symbolic representation of "home" for 70,000 Ngati Porou is celebrated in story, song and speech.
At nearly 1800m high, Hikurangi is the first point on the New Zealand mainland to greet the morning sun - and therefore the first part of the human-inhabited world to see the sun rise.
Potae says Experience Hikurangi is a great example of Maori tourism business which can grow massively from small beginnings.
"I think a lot of people do not realise what a thirst there is for this kind of thing - something genuine, cultural, spiritual and an experience people do not forget because of its real and obvious connection to the land and relevance to our humanity."
She gives the example of two women in Auckland who set up a small tourism company, accompanying visitors to beaches and other areas to explain the relevance and connection to Maori.
"They thought they'd just take backpackers to the beach, do a bit of harakeke (flax) weaving - that sort of thing," says Potae.
"Turns out their business has attracted a lot of high-end American visitors - who just absolutely love that sort of connection. It just shows, I think, how Maori tourism has a lot to offer the iwi and the country as a whole.
"The way I look at it is that Maori tourism - and all Maori business - is a matter of balancing people, the planet and profits and doing all of that sustainably."
There is a long way to go for many iwi in tourism, she says, because few others have the long experience of the Rotorua iwi, for example, in welcoming tourists: "They see nothing unusual in marketing themselves but many other iwi feel a bit shy or embarrassed - they feel a bit plastic, that they are taking a really deep, unique, cultural thing and dressing it up or making it a bit fake.
"It doesn't do that, of course, the genuineness of what they are doing is what visitors want - that real, cultural experience. But that is a hurdle iwi have to overcome when taking themselves to the outside world."
However, Potae says Maori businesses are showing the way when it comes to dealing with business and trade from other cultures - like China.
A recent University of Canterbury study pointed to Maori businesses successfully seeking commercial opportunities with Chinese partners in both countries - with both cultures sharing a similar set of values around the way business is done. Emphasis is placed on building relationships with business partners, with short-term business arrangements playing second fiddle to developing mutual understanding and trust over longer periods.
Potae says many people do not understand this: "Maori are on a different timeline. We are born into our iwi and have a share of the land. Then you go through your life cycle and, at some point, make decisions to help maintain the assets - but only for the next generation; you don't own the land, you are just looking after it.
"The Chinese have a very similar set of values and they work to a long timeline as well. If nothing happens after 6 months or 12 months, then so be it; both sides are developing their relationship. It might be years but something will finally happen - and it happens in that culture of trust and familiarity. That's the timeline we work to."
For more information on BDO's Maori business services go to www.bdo.nz/maoribiz