Just six months ago, Nadine and Karl Toe Toe were on top of the world. They cleaned up at the 2019 New Zealand Tourism Industry awards taking the honours for ‘Community engagement’. That evening the Māori Tourism industry sprung to its feet performing a chilling haka to show their support and admiration for the couple.
Six years earlier, Nadine and Karl had sold their house to fund Kohutapu Lodge and Tribal Tours on their homeland just outside of Murupara. But the family business which employs seven local guides and historians from their iwi, Ngāti Manawa, is now in crisis. Their aspirations have been infected by Coronavirus. The Toe Toe’s plans for a business extension have been drastically scaled back and the future post Covid-19 is looking bleak.
Among the highlights of their business careers have been providing 30,000 hāngī to the Murupara community, sending a classroom of local tamariki on a round trip of New Zealand for the past four years and sponsoring scholarship students to Taratahi Farms agricultural school.
But it won’t just be the owners of Māori tourism operations that suffer the consequences of Covid-19 it will be the small communities that they so generously support. Some 57% of those living in Murupara earn less than $20,000 a year and 90% of the community are Māori.
The community relies on Kohutapu Lodge and Tribal Tours for support, such as the 36 school uniforms, and the $30,000 local marae grants the business provides, as well as the sharing of their resources.
A few years ago, a financial bump in the road meant the couple had to think creatively to survive, so they partnered up with core contractor Stray New Zealand which brought international tourists to their doorsteps. It was a winning combination, first time tourists are treated to Māori kai and Ngāti Manawa hospitality at the remote Kohutapu Lodge on the outskirts of Murupara.
But Covid-19 has brought the successful business to its knees. All future bookings have been canceled and there is no income for the foreseeable future. While they’ve applied for the government subsidies to pay their staff, they say after 12 weeks they will be unable to pay them anymore.
The successful business has gone from operating a 6–7 days per week business, earning tens of thousands of dollars to zero – overnight.
Nadine Toe Toe says the industry needs pūtea to stay afloat or some sort of buffer. She’s not sitting around waiting for a someone to toss them a lifeline, she’s busy redeveloping their business and relaunching Kohutapu Lodge and Tribal Tours to a target the New Zealanders.
Once the lock down is lifted they’re appealing to the domestic market to give them a go, to Kiwi looking for rest and relaxation. Nadine ToeToe says the Māori Tourism experience is safe and varied – from hangi and concerts and geothermal attractions – to hunting, fishing, gathering and cooking kai, native bush walks, mountain biking, boutique accommodation, relaxation (mirimiri, rongoa and healing), high-end experiences and adrenaline activities.
In the year ending March 2019, tourism generated a direct contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) of $16.2 billion, or 5.8 percent of GDP. Nearly 230,000 people are directly employed in tourism. Nadine ToeToe says tourism will come back, “It’s not about if it’s about when” in the meantime they need support to stay afloat.
There’s a whakataukī relevant to tourism and Covid-19 “whatungarongaro te tangata, toitū te whenua” meaning people come and go but the land will remain. While the lands of Ngāti Manawa remain, Nadine and Karl ToeToe will do all they can to stay on them.
(Written by Mihingaarangi Forbes)