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13 Feb, 2014

Maori Tourism CEO clears the air over suspended PATA Indigenous Tourism Conf

BANGKOK – The chief executive of New Zealand Maori Tourism has stepped in to dispel speculation about the reasons for the abrupt suspension of an April conference on Indigenous Tourism that was scheduled to be held in Rotorua in cooperation with the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA).

In a statement emailed to this editor, Mrs Pania Tyson-Nathan said the umbrella body of New Zealand’s indigenous tourism groups had run short of time in delivering on two important initiatives that were to be announced at the event, and sought a postponement until either September or October.

Flashback: Travel Impact Newswire Executive Editor Imtiaz Muqbil moderated the first forum on Indigenous Tourism held at the ITB Berlin in 2009. Click on the image above to download the full report FREE.

PATA was unable to do that because it was to hold its Annual General Meeting and associated events alongside the conference, the second one of its kind under the PATA brand. As the AGM has to be held in April-May, and PATA members would not be able to justify flying all the way to New Zealand just for that, PATA was forced to start a search for other venues.

An announcement of the new PATA AGM venue is due within a few weeks. The Indigenous Tourism conference has been shifted to some time in 2015.

Mrs Tyson-Nathan’s clarification came in the wake of widespread speculation that the event had been called off because of a less than enthusiastic response and poor marketing efforts by both PATA and Maori Tourism.

In an email dated 4 Feb circulated to PATA friends and associates, PATA CEO Martin Craigs made the announcement thus: “Regrettably there has been an unexpected and very recent change in New Zealand’s previous endorsement and commitment to support the AGM and related meetings in April. The Executive Board has resolved to seek another venue for the AGM and related meetings in Asia in mid-May. Several destinations have already expressed interest in hosting and we plan to advise you of the revised location three months in advance.”

Because the email did not cite any reasons, and because no official announcement was made by either side, speculation was rife that the co-organisers had been unable to deliver on the content promised in the initial announcement.

In its press release dated 20 Aug, 2013, PATA said it had accepted the New Zealand Māori Tourism’s “exceptional bid” to host the Conference and PATA Board Meetings in Rotorua from April 4-9, 2014.

“The objective of the PAITC is to promote awareness, enhance and protect the increasingly important tourism role of Asia Pacific’s Indigenous peoples such as hill tribes, forest dwellers, sea faring groups and Aboriginal people,” the release said. “The PAITC is an opportunity to showcase the success of Māori tourism driving Māori economic growth, while holding a dialogue and sharing best practices from Indigenous groups around the world.”

Mr Craigs was quoted as saying: “We expect to draw participation from Indigenous leaders, government agencies, associations, operators, NGOs, universities, research bodies and media from around the globe, to discuss and share issues, challenges and solutions on how to best preserve Indigenous heritage and culture as part of the complete visitor economy.”

Asked in the wake of his Feb 4, 2014, email if advance registrations were below target, Mr Craigs said: “I don’t think it was about the numbers. I think we would have been happy with about 150-200 but I believe they were looking at possibly 300-400.”

Mr Craigs said the initial email from Mrs Tyson-Nathan had reached him on Jan 6. “We talked for about a week, but we couldn’t find a way to make both the AGM and PAITC happen on schedule.”

Alerted to the speculation and the need to clarify what happened, Mrs Tyson-Nathan sent this editor a detailed email doing exactly that.

She said Maori Tourism had been working on two significant initiatives that it had been hoping to announce. These included:

– a significant piece of research with numerous entities including Universities from various countries and,

– a technology initiative that will assist tourism operators from developing countries and also developing communities within developed economies.

When it became apparent that neither could be readied on time, she sought a postponement to 2015. “Because New Zealand is a great distance to travel for many of the proposed target audience as well as the travel costs being prohibitive for many indigenous peoples, we wanted to make sure that the content of the conference was significant for our respective peoples.

“As part of the discussion with PATA, the possibility to host the AGM was still available to us. However, unfortunately but understandably, PATA Management required confirmation regarding sponsorship by 21 January. As New Zealand literally shuts down over January, in particular our head offices and government departments, I was not able to confirm sponsorship within the required timeframes.

“I therefore thought it would be best to advise PATA immediately so there was sufficient time for PATA to make alternative arrangements. So, time has not been on our side – with all of the above including desired deliverables for the conference, we must also consult with our wider indigenous community both here in NZ and internationally.

“Our commitment to deliver an outstanding Indigenous Tourism conference for and with indigenous peoples is unquestionable. The programme we wish to deliver is both aspirational and ambitious and I am sure nobody would expect anything less from us. We look forward to hosting the conference in 2015. I am also happy to advise that our international indigenous networks are also very pleased with this outcome.”

Mrs Tyson-Nathan added, “I understand from the PATA CEO that maybe 3 or 4 people had already booked flights for the conference. Therefore we have offered to take care of them when they arrive.”

She said Maori Tourism is working on a small joint project with PATA as a prelude to the 2015 conference and this will be announced in due course.

Mr Craigs added, “We wish NZ Maori Tourism well on delivering their conference later than planned and with all the elements that paced their decision.”

In a related development, Mrs Tyson-Nathan said she will be travelling with the Minister of Maori Affairs to Malaysia from 21-27 March to celebrate NZ Week. A business delegation travelling with him will include members of the Maori business and cultural communities, and the programme will include a one-day indigenous tourism conference on sustainability.