As revealed at MEETINGS, Rotorua won the bid for the World Indigenous Business Forum for 2018, a win Murray says makes total sense. ‘Everyone says they have unique offsite venue options, but imagine having a powhiri, canapés cooked underground, and then your main meal cooked in steaming vents coming out of the earth. We have experiences that no one in the world can create.’ Tuhua Mutu, co-owner of MDA Experiences, which runs Mountain Bike Rotorua, offers experiences with a strong focus on Maori culture, combined with New Zealand landscapes and activities. He says when it comes to cultural experiences, Rotorua has a level of sincerity other places don’t have. ‘We’re local Maori business owners. We lean on our relationship with our local iwi and collaborate with other Maori business owners. Cultural activities aren’t for everyone - it’s for the engaged. It’s entwined in what we do. We don’t do tokenism. It’s not a costume or a stunt. That’s not who we are.’ For Mutu, incorporating culture into group tours or activities is about ensuring that every experience is always about the people first. ‘We have a duty of hosting - we break it down so it’s friends and family, not client and guide,’ he explains. ‘Our guides carry on the traditional beliefs of Maori such as Manaakitanga (caring for those around us), Kaitiakitanga (protecting our planet and people) and Whanaungatanga (creating lasting relationships with those we bring into our lives). ‘We want to bust down the walls and have real interactions, and so do our clients. They want to go behind the veil and see the less commercial side of culture. And we want them to imprint on us as much as we do on them.’
Behind the veil of commercial culture
Culture holds a pretty powerful promise in New Zealand, and it’s no different in Rotorua, which prides itself as being the heartland of Maori culture. Craig Murray, business events manager at Destination Rotorua, says the Manaakitanga is the city’s catch cry. ‘Manaakitanga places a responsibility on us as your hosts to give you the best of ourselves, our time and our history,’ he says. Murray says intertwining culture into business events, conferences and incentive travel is something the business events team prides itself on doing. A high performing team of four, the business events team focuses on bringing conferences that fit with Rotorua’s image, such as geothermal, forestry and forestry-based science, and especially indigenous culture.