Twelve New Zealand tourism operators have been honoured for the aroha and community spirit they have shown during the past year, as recipients of top honours in the national tourism industry awards.
Having been cancelled in 2020, this year's awards highlight the work done by local companies during the Covid downturn.
This evening, the Qualmark 100% Pure New Zealand Experience 2021 Awards were held in the Christchurch Art Centre at an event designed to highlight some of the amazing work and community initiatives done by New Zealand tour companies - in a year without tourists.
The 12 winners came from around the country in a range of areas - from adventure tourism to aviation.
Some regions had many champions to celebrate.
Three Rotorua businesses won top honours. Rotorua Canopy Tours' regenerative business gained plaudits along with the Māori-owned Kaitiaki Adventures and luxury tour guides MDA Experiences.
Close to Auckland, two businesses on Waiheke Island were also winners.
In the waters of the Hauraki, Waiheke Dive and Snorkel pledged to use profits to regenerate their marine landscape, and in above the vineyards EcoZip Adventures was also a winner.
By doubling down on environmental regeneration and conservation efforts, EcoZip was able to keep on staff during the tourism downturn.
"Today we are a different business, but with no lesser commitment to our people, our
customers and our communities," said EcoZip, who said the award was a "beacon at the end of 15 months of uncertainty."
The 12 winners were selected from a pool of almost 50 finalists chosen by the judges from the national tourism body Tourism New Zealand, ratings agency Qualmark and airline Air New Zealand.
Judge Hemi Sundgren Pou Ārahi, for TNZ, said it was a "humbling experience" to have to pick winners.
"There are so many great people doing their best within a sector that has been subject to a set of circumstances unrivalled in our lifetime," he said.
Sundgren said finalists had been chosen for their "expressions of manaaki [hospitality], tiaki [guardianship] and whanau [family and community] by concentrating their time and energy on the communities they serve and the environment they live".
"Our winners were ultimately selected for demonstrating true Kiwi aroha and giving back for the good of New Zealand, said Sue Purcell, chair of the judging panel and CFO for TNZ.
"Even in an unprecedented year of hurdles, they found a way to support their people, the wider community and the environment, all while keeping their businesses going. The stories we have read are truly inspiring."
Judge and Air New Zealand head of sustainability Meagan Schoeffel congratulated each of the finalists for their resilience.
"They've felt that pressure on their shoulders and there are so many fantastic examples of people doing what needed to be done and not giving up."
To be eligible for the awards businesses had to be rated Qualmark Gold and have a proven commitment to providing world-class experiences while also being Kitaiaki for the community and land on which they operate.
Richie McCaw, TNZ ambassador and former All Blacks Captain was also in attendance to present the awards. No stranger to trophy presentations, over the next six months McCaw will be delivering the awards and giving the winning experiences a go.
"For all of you still being here and still contributing to this industry and all that New Zealand has to offer is a real testament to the grit that Kiwis are made of," said McCaw.
Winners: Qualmark 100% Pure New Zealand Experience Awards 2021
• GCH Aviation, Christchurch
The charter flight company doubled down on its work with the NZ Flying Doctors' Service during Covid-19lLockdowns as well partnerships with charities and DoC's feral cat management.
• Carino Wildlife Tours, Paihia
The marine mammals tours worked with local hapū and DoC to share valuable marine skills with the community needed to care for natural taonga.
• Nightsky Cottage, Ruapehu
On the boundary of the Tongariro national park, the luxury eco-lodge led by example while offering discounts to essential health workers.
• EcoZip Adventures, Waiheke Island
The adventure company not only retained but took on staff for its regeneration and conservation work during the tourist downturn.
• Kaitiaki Adventures, Rotorua
The operator shred local taonga and te ao Māori through their Rangatahi training programme.
• MDA Experiences, Rotorua
A luxury tour company specialising in mountain biking extended its trails to local school and families with a "Share the Ride" programme.
• Owen River Lodge, Nelson
The luxury fishing lodge remained committed to its staff and opening date amid the Covid downturn without compromising its care for the pristine riverbanks.
• Rotorua Canopy Tours, Rotorua
Leading a restoration project on 250 hectares of native forest, it remained operating seven days a week outside of the lockdowns.
• Skydive Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, West Coast
Based in the hard-hit glacier country, its partnership with DoC allowed staff to continue to earn a living wage and develop wider skills.
• Waiheke Dive and Snorkel, Waiheke
The "regenerative" dive shop has established an unique "no take" zone for marine life within Auckland for divers to enjoy.
• Wildwire Wanaka, Central Otago
The adventure climbing company has used the past 15 months to reinvest in the company with staff training and redevelopment of its giant waterfall climb.
• Ziptrek Ecotours, Queenstown
The Queenstown adventure staple has used the past 15 months to take Kiwi guests and develop new experiences such as a music festival in the trees.