The residents of Whakarewarewa can make a very strong claim to being the oldest tourism and family business in New Zealand.
When people came from the UK to view the Pink and White terraces (often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world), they were guided by the village’s descendants. After the eruptions in in the 1860s, the guides settled into the village.
200 years on, Whakarewarewa is thriving, both as a living Maori village with around 60 inhabitants and as a tourist attraction.
In an increasingly crowded tourism market that caters to digitally savvy travellers who are not afraid to leave very honest reviews of their experience, how does Whakarewarewa stay relevant, consistently receiving top reviews on TripAdvisor?
Blair Millar, Whakarewarewa’s CEO, attributes its enduring appeal to authenticity and a sustainable approach to business.
“Tourism is in our DNA. The stories haven’t changed and the way that we conduct our daily activities hasn’t changed. We are a living, breathing village….people bathe in the pools, they cook here, we have a working marae and a pa. It’s all genuine and it’s that uniqueness that keeps us popular.”
Building a sustainable business is key for Whakarewarewa, as Blair explains.
“When Maori acquire land, it’s intergenerational, it’s ‘buy to hold’, not ‘buy to sell’. It’s not about making a quick profit. The environment is very important – if we can’t sustain the land, you don’t have a tourism business. The geothermal activity in the village means that we can only sustain a maximum of 150,000 visitors a year so we have to be smart about how we conduct our tourism. As this is a living village, we open between 8.30 and 5pm, to give the inhabitants some privacy.”
That sustainable approach also applies to marketing. “It’s essential to reach our key international markets, so Search Engine Optimisation connectivity is a key focus. There are so many online travel agents in the market offering to represent your brand and sell tickets for you, but the moment you start discounting, you are giving away profits before you start. We have added a booking engine to our site to steer tourists to us directly.”
The majority of Whakarewarewa’s visitors come from Australasia, Europe and North America with the Indian sub-continent an emerging market. The main challenge for any tourism operator in Rotorua is the small window of opportunity they have, as Blair explains.
“We’re running out of beds in Rotorua, plus tourists only come for a night or two. Destination Rotorua has done a huge amount for the region, both in terms of putting ‘backs on beds’ and helping some of the smaller tourism businesses market themselves together.
A combination of commercial savvy with sustainability will ensure this living, breathing village will be enjoyed by future generations.