Describing Ngāi Tahu Tourism as a ‘business’ doesn’t come close to capturing the true spirit and philosophy behind what this tribally-owned enterprise does, nor how seriously they work to fulfill their stated purpose to preserve their culture and land for future generations.
A commitment to people, culture and innovation is supporting inter-generational tribal growth.
Ngāi Tahu Tourism is one of the largest tourism operators in New Zealand, hosting more than one million customers a year across 11 businesses and more than 25 unique experiences, including Shotover Jet, Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters, Agrodome and Earth & Sky. The company takes great pride in warmly welcoming visitors from around the world, with manaakitanga, or hospitality, as one of the core values that drives the way they do business. The company is owned by Ngāi Tahu, the biggest indigenous tribe, or iwi, by population in the South Island with more than 56,000 registered members. This makes it one of the largest whānau, or family, owned businesses in New Zealand. In addition to its tourism interests, Ngāi Tahu has holdings in Fisheries, Dairy, Property and Capital.
If you were to ask any tourist coming through the arrival gates at Auckland Airport what the one thing is that they hope to experience during their holiday in New Zealand, there’s a good chance they would say “adventure”, “nature” or “the culture”.
It’s also likely that, in the pursuit of that, they will enjoy Ngāi Tahu hospitality at one of their iconic tourism experiences in both New Zealand’s North and South Islands.
Ngāi Tahu Tourism is one of the largest tourism operators in New Zealand, hosting more than one million customers every year across 11 businesses between Rotorua in the north and Fiordland in the south.
Attractions include everything from “adrenalin” options – such as the Shotover and Hukafalls Jet, Franz Josef Glacier Guides or Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters – to the more placid experiences of Guided Walks New Zealand, the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools, or Rainbow Springs Nature Park, to name just a few. The company is also a 50 percent owner of the famous astro-tourism experience Earth & Sky in Tekapo.
Ngāi Tahu Tourism is owned by Ngāi Tahu – the biggest iwi, or tribe, by population in Te Waipounamu (the South Island). It has more than 56,000 registered members across the country, making it one of the largest family businesses in New Zealand.
Yet, describing Ngāi Tahu Tourism as a “business” doesn’t capture the true spirit and philosophy behind what this tribally owned enterprise does, nor how seriously it works to fulfil its stated purpose.
Quinton Hall, CEO of Ngāi Tahu Tourism, explains: “With Ngāi Tahu Tourism you are part of an organisation that’s owned by the tangata whenua – the people of the place – telling their stories in that place.”
Hall delves further into what this means: “The Ngāi Tahu tribe has a proverb, Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri, ā muri ake nei, which means “For us and our children after us”.
“Keeping this in mind in all we do motivates us to always act with integrity, do the right thing and ensure we look after our customers so they can join us in our long-term view,” says Hall.
“So, when we talk about our purpose, we say that the reason we exist is to make a connection with our customers – to Ngāi Tahu, to Ngāi Tahu Tourism and to New Zealand.”
Hall says Ngāi Tahu conducts its business under the principle of kaitiakitanga, or guardianship, which includes how they look after the environment, and deliver health and safety systems as part of their businesses, while also providing support to the wider New Zealand tourism industry.
“All of our profits go back to Ngāi Tahu and they use those earnings to do amazing work in education, the environment, health, as well as helping to grow the iwi and support their aspirations,” says Hall.
James Tawa, Project Coordinator Tribal Connection, is one beneficiary of that support, having received a Ngāi Tahu Tourism scholarship to help meet the costs of his university degree in Tourism.
James is proud to work for his iwi and describes how to him, it’s about much more than having a job and simply providing entertainment for visitors.
“Sometimes you can only see the beauty of the land through the eyes of someone who loves the land. When you hear it from that person, you can then see it for what it really is and then it starts speaking to you,” says Tawa.
“As part of Ngāi Tahu Tourism, I can help bring that experience to the people who visit our lands. It’s about giving our customers something that they may not get elsewhere and creating those authentic, unforgettable moments.”
In striving to create that authenticity of connection, Ngāi Tahu Tourism has approached their business with a spirit of innovation, continually seeking out new ideas and technologies to enhance the customer experience and reinforce their core purpose.
One example is the Kruse Audio Translation technology used on the Dart River Adventures tour. International visitors can hear the story of the location in their own language through headphones, triggered by GPS location.
At the other end of the thrill spectrum, Ngāi Tahu Tourism was pivotal in developing new innovations in jet boat technology for their Shotover Jet attraction, which are now used across the industry.
“We were the first to introduce tiered seating. We were the first to introduce the 700-horsepower twin-engine system that reaches speeds of 90km per hour on the river. We also helped develop the flat bottom boat with the accelerometer that reads G-Forces to balance thrills with comfort, ensuring spins are far smoother for our customers,” says Hall.
“Essentially, everything about our tourism industry is innovative, whether it’s jet boating, or just taking people through our landscape and showing them what we do. We’re always striving for new ways to connect with our customers and create better experiences.”
With these efforts, the core purpose of Ngāi Tahu Tourism remains strong.
“As hosts, we care for our customers and our team as our own family. We have this age-old culture in New Zealand where we welcome people with open arms. It’s fundamental to our nature, and a lot of that culture comes from Māori and that sense of manaaki, or hospitality, that we do so well,” says Hall.
“There’s a trust and comfort that comes with being a family-owned business. Once people understand who you are and how you do business, they understand your values.”
Sir Tipene O'Regan describes it in perhaps the simplest terms: “People who do business with us do it because they like us. And we’re more interested in getting on with those who like doing business with us.”