We just got back from a short trip to New Zealand (we survived the Christchurch earthquake as thankfully we were all much further north, but the devastation is just horrendous). So in the true spirit of kiwi optimism, I thought I'd blog about an inspirational story about a small business startup started by two Maori brothers from new Zealand...
In the late 1980’s, there were two Maori brothers called Mike and Doug Tamaki. They had grown up pretty poor in a small New Zealand city called Rotorua. Known for it’s thermal springs, boiling hot mud and as the country’s center of Maori arts and culture, Rotorua’s entire industry is 100% based tourism. But during the previous 5 years, Mike had also noticed a major change happening among his people. The younger Maori generation were leaving Rotorua in droves, and they weren’t proud of being Maori and were doing everything to disavow their own heritage and cultural roots. So Mike Tamaki came up with a plan of his own.
He wanted to start his own cultural tourist attraction in Rotorua, but nothing like the heavily stereotyped plastic feeling dinner and dance performances offered through the hotel chains. His dream was far bigger. Mike wanted to create a legendary Maori experience for visitors to Rotorua – something that would give them a real appreciation for their history, way of life, hospitality and wicked sense of humor. So Mike drew up his plan but was quickly denied by every bank he approached. So he started on working on his brother Doug, to convince him to trade in his Harley Davidson motorbike for a 16 seater mini bus. It took a lot of persuading but finally Doug gave in, and the brothers started bringing tourists to their homes. They’d personally pick them up from their hotels, the train station, the airport, or the bus depot and bring them to their homes. They would cook them a traditional Maori dinner, called a hangi, in the ground; introduce them to all of their extended family; and give them a real experience to go home and tell their friends about. The idea was a huge success. So the brothers set out recreating it on a larger, grander scale.
They built from scratch a pre-European Maori village 15 minutes south of Rotorua. Many said they shouldn't, couldn't or wouldn't pull it off. The distance from hotels was seen as a deterrent, the forest setting wouldn’t be appealing, the in-ground, real hangi approach (as opposed to the shortcut versions being offered at the time) seemed labor intensive and too difficult.
The Brothers turned all of these negatives into positives. The bus journey to the village outside of Rotorua is now a major highlight; renowned for its warmth and humor. The forest environment is absolutely stunning – you walk through and each “hut” is set up with different scenes depicting their past and present ways of life. You truly feel like you’ve gone through a window in time. The real hangi dinner has become a highlight of the visit, with travelers telling friends and family of it when they return home.
The Tamaki Maori Village now employs 150 guides, teachers, performers, and professional staff in their Rotorua project and turns over more than $10 million each year. They’ve expanded their operations to 4 other New Zealand locations.
But even greater than their financial success, the Tamaki brothers have reinvigorated an entire race of people’s pride in their own culture, shattered stereotypes, turned obstacles into selling points and achieved what everyone else told them was impossible.
Hope you have a great rest of the week :)