Tourism heavyweight Te Puia will reopen thanks to a Government prop up. Journalist Kelly Makiha follows Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's visit to the iconic Rotorua attraction and carving school and finds out how the money will help.
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When Te Puia shut its doors on March 21, 140 Rotorua people went without jobs.
But now thanks to a cash injection of $7.6 million from the Government, Te Puia New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute will reopen and start to advertise more jobs.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited Te Puia yesterday alongside Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis, Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta, Waiariki MP Tāmati Coffey and New Zealand First deputy leader Fletcher Tabuteau, to talk about its recovery from the Covid-19 lockdown.
Ardern spent the morning talking with Destination Rotorua officials and some tourism leaders as well as meeting with Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick and deputy mayor Dave Donaldson.
Ardern said Te Puia had a special relationship with the Crown and the funding was separate to the $400m announced for the tourism industry.
"We have distinct responsibilities there because of the role they play fostering Māori arts and crafts and passing those skills down for that programme."
Te Puia chief executive Tim Cossar told the Rotorua Daily Post Te Puia's tourism arm had funded the institute, but without tourism, the future of the carving school was at risk.
He said about 30 staff members remained employed - including seven from the institute and 23 from Te Puia. The institute had lost 33 of its carving school staff as well as 25 students.
The funding would allow the institute to, among other things, employ another 15 people initially for the carving school.
He said the tourism side of the business was now looking at reinventing itself to the domestic market and he hoped to reopen by the July school holidays.
Initially, it would employ about another 25 staff members for the tourism side and build back from there.
He said Te Puia was forced to close its doors because the Chinese and Korean markets shut down long before New Zealand went into lockdown and it had spent weeks losing money.
"We saw it early."
Asked whether, in hindsight, given the wage subsidy the staff should have been made redundant, Cossar said: "We made our decision and hindsight doesn't really help us."
Cossar said while domestic and Australian markets would help, it wasn't likely other international markets would come back anytime soon, at least more than a year away.
However, he said Te Puia was in a strong position now to rebuild. The recent $23m upgrades had all been self-funded without debt and there was money in the bank.
"We are reinventing ourselves and looking at our guiding and visitor experiences and looking at our pricing systems. How do we present ourselves to the domestic market?"
New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute general manager Eraia Kiel was on the verge of tears when he spoke about the hurt of having to let go staff.
"There were many sleepless nights."
He said it was humbling to receive the Government funding.
"It really reaffirms our product and the legacy that we have ... I'm looking forward to having our buildings populated again by our people and being able to share it with the rest of the country."