A Rotorua tourism heavyweight has been given a big financial lifeline from the Government, just ahead of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's visit to the city today.
Rotorua tourism icon Te Puia New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute has been given a $7.6 million cash injection from the Government.
The money is part of the Government's Budget package that has seen $900m allocated to support Māori.
The funding boost will be discussed today as part of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's visit to Rotorua.
Along with Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta, Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis, Waiariki MP Tāmati Coffey and other MPs and officials, Ardern will visit Te Puia New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute to meet with chief executive Tim Cossar and members of its board.
The Rotorua visit will also include meetings with other city and tourism leaders.
Te Puia was forced to shut its doors on March 21 and some staff had lost their jobs.
Mahuta said Māori arts and crafts underpinned the heart of the tourism sector.
"That's why we are making a core investment of $7.6 million to Te Puia New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, over two years, as part of the Government's Rebuilding Together Budget.
"Incorporating the Te Puia tourism centre and the Māori arts and crafts training centre, the institute has been part of the country's Māori arts and tourism landscape for nearly 100 years, and is expected to continue to play a vital role as Aotearoa recovers and rebuilds."
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Mahuta said the institute's continuity was vital, culturally and economically and the Government's investment would bring relief in response to travel restrictions following the Covid-19 pandemic.
"The support will safeguard the future of toi Māori and ensure that our future carvers, weavers, waka exponents and arts and crafts champions have a place to hone and perfect Māori arts for generations to come.
"Further, there is no doubt the impacts of Covid-19 will have on the tourism and hospitality sector.
"I also have no doubt iwi partners will be working diligently to ensure that they continue to carry the business through this uncertain time."
As a major local attraction, she said numerous other businesses and individuals were likely to benefit from Te Puia over the medium term, including accommodation and retail services. Prior to Covid-19, about two out of every 19 visitors to Rotorua visited Te Puia.
Te Puia New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute was formed in 1926 and operates as a tourism venture with specialised education schools dedicated to Māori arts and crafts.
"This taonga has a history of innovation and creativity and I am confident it will respond well to the challenges of the new environment," Mahuta said.
Te Puia chief executive, Tim Cossar said the funding package would ensure the Institute's cultural activities survived while its visitor operation rebooted and recovered.
"Like every other visitor attraction in New Zealand, we have been significantly impacted by Covid-19. However, unlike any other tourism business, our activity also includes a cultural protection and development operation that is mandated under law.
"This has been a tough period for everyone involved with Te Puia | NZMACI and the hard times are not yet over. Tourism markets have stopped and our business, as we knew it, became unviable to remain open.
"But thanks to this contribution from the New Zealand Government, we can safeguard the ongoing development of Māori art and craft, and ensure its longevity."
Cossar said some of the institute's master carvers and heads of schools had been retained and the funding would allow it to progressively build back its capability.
"In the meantime, we are working extremely hard to ensure we are in the best place possible to provide a contemporary Māori and geothermal offering for our domestic – and eventually international – visitor market once again.
"Many of our whānau are just the latest in several generations to carve and/or guide in Te Whakarewarewa Valley – and they won't be the last. The legacy of this place stems back nearly 150 years, when guides were first hosting manuhiri to the Pink and White Terraces.
"The plans and changes we make now will ensure that this legacy continues for another 150 years."
Redwoods Treewalk owner Bruce Thomasen said it was great news for Te Puia New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute.
"Culture is a core element to our long term success and when international borders open it is going to be a core part of New Zealand's international proposition."
Ardern's visit today will see a series of discussions on how the region is recovering following the alert level lockdowns.
She would meet with tourism and hospitality operators at Destination Rotorua, with Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick and deputy mayor Dave Donaldson and members of the executive team at the Rotorua Lakes District Council.