Improving cultural competency and ensuring authentic storytelling

The tourism industry plays an important role in sharing Aotearoa New Zealand’s unique cultural stories and history with visitors from all over the world.

The aim of improving cultural competency is dual: to enable organisations to tell more authentic stories, and to build a workplace culture for workers where their cultural values, and in particular te ao Māori values, are understood and respected in order to build more diverse and inclusive workplaces in the longer term.

Diversity and inclusion are important concepts in modern life. When we talk about them with regards to the tourism and hospitality industries, we do not necessarily mean making businesses meet a certain diversity statistic to define whether or not a workplace is diverse. As many tourism and hospitality businesses are only made up of a few employees, this would not be realistic. Rather, we want to emphasise the importance of creating workplaces where people of all cultures, including Māori, feel more valued and understood. This is done through the incorporation of different cultural values in the workplace. Workers who are better connected with their workplaces, both from a cultural and purpose perspective, are more likely to thrive, remain longer in that workplace, and become more attractive to future employers because of their valuable cultural skillsets.

Building cultural connections between people, places, and the wider community brings people and different cultures together while presenting an opportunity for people to learn about other cultures. One example of this is food tourism.

Building cultural connections and bringing different cultures together

Food tourism is an opportunity to connect people, places, and communities.

Sharing food can bring to life the history and stories where produce is sourced and help illustrate the local culture. Food tourism can showcase the region’s uniqueness, including the variety of culture, geography, and other elements of the local area. Kai brings communities together.

We heard through public consultation that visitors, and the tourism workforce, share an interest in Aotearoa New Zealand’s culture and are often eager to learn more. Many submitters and workshop participants considered that our culture is a point of difference which is valued by international visitors and makes the experience more memorable.

"Māori culture is our unique point of difference in this world and cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. A progressive country embraces its indigeneity alongside its settler history."

Great South
Public consultation, August 2022

The industry already contains many genuine, knowledgeable storytellers who have a connection to their whenua and who can, and do, genuinely incorporate te ao Māori views and perspectives into their offerings for both visitors and employees. However, there is scope to spread this knowledge further and continue to build on this strong foundation, as there are still cases of businesses sharing stories and history without consideration for, or acknowledgement of, their cultural significance. There are also businesses and people who do not feel confident with te ao Māori or other cultural elements in their business or work.

To improve cultural competency, employees will need to develop confidence along with competence. This will enable the use of, and engagement with, te ao Māori, and the delivery of an authentic Aotearoa New Zealand experience. We recognise that levels of cultural competence and confidence will differ between employees as everyone is at a different point in their journey and will have different aspirations.

Public consultation showed significant support for this Tirohanga Hou and affirmed the view that building the cultural competency of the tourism workforce could support the attraction and retention of Māori staff, as well as non-Māori employees who feel a connection with the cultural aspects of their work.

We also received several well-made points and observations that will guide implementation.

A selection follows:

  • For success in cultural competency, there also needs to be consideration of the diverse migrant workforce and other cultures represented in Aotearoa New Zealand, as well as in our visitor cohort.
  • Māori stories need to be told respectfully and by those whose stories they are to tell.
  • Currently there is uncertainty regarding what storytelling is appropriate, particularly among non-Māori tourism businesses.
  • A government-mandated initiative is unlikely to improve outcomes, so getting the partnership with iwi right is critical.
  • Success is likely to come if cultural competency is pursued more at a local or regional level, given the particularity of history and narratives to each region.
  • Where possible, accessible and digestible guidance and tools would support businesses to understand and address gaps in their capability.
  • It would help to know what success looks like and share best practice.

"Māori must be at the forefront of shaping and endorsing this both nationally, where there are common themes, and regionally where tribal boundaries exist and stories become area unique. Authenticity, respect, acknowledgement of who owns these stories and how they can be used will be important considerations."

Tourism Business
Public consultation, August 2022

Initiative 7: Regionally delivered cultural competency pilot programme

Initiative 7 – Pilot programme to build cultural competency through regional resources

A pilot programme to develop local support for tourism organisations to build cultural competency (through dedicated personnel and bespoke learning tools), developed with a regional focus. 

Outcomes sought

  • More inclusive workplaces, which may be demonstrated by workplaces being more diverse, with workers feeling safer and more comfortable in their workplaces. 
  • More consistent and authentic storytelling, which would allow employers, employees and visitors to better connect with and understand the region and community.
  • Improving staff cultural competency  a valuable workplace skillset.
  • Increasing respect and acknowledgement of the significance of Māori stories and other cultures’ stories and values within tourism workplaces.

There is a significant opportunity to harness the interest from all parties in upskilling our tourism and hospitality businesses in their understanding and application of te ao Māori, tikanga, te reo Māori, the history of the land they operate on (and the responsibilities which come with this), and local hapū and iwi history.

Reflecting the feedback about the importance of regionally tailored and delivered product, a pilot programme is recommended. This will enable some progress in the right direction, as well as the chance to evaluate the impact of, and lessons learned from, the programme before it is rolled out more widely.

The proposal is to initiate the pilot in three different regions of New Zealand – 1 urban, 1 rural, and 1 remote – with precise locations to be decided based on a number of factors, including the interest and availability of key advisors, such as mana whenua.

Key features of the pilot would include:

  • Liaison officers being employed to help build the cultural competency of employees and businesses in that area. These officers will be nominated by the local iwi.
  • Regionally tailored learning resources created with local stakeholders to reflect the area’s history. This could include both Māori history and the stories of other groups, where appropriate for the region. For example, if Queenstown was included in the pilot, Chinese histories may also be included while in Dunedin inclusion of Scottish history may be relevant.
  • Central administrative support and guidance from a lead organisation to create shared resources and support the liaison officers in their work on the ground.

The pilot would necessarily involve a partnership amongst those with the most knowledge and connections in this space, including iwi and education providers (for example, Queenstown Resort College has an existing Ambassador Programme that develops bespoke cultural competency and educational courses in partnership with local iwi and researchers for regions and businesses). New Zealand Māori Tourism could also play an important role. 

Last updated: 28 June 2023