Its Borders Shut, New Zealand Prods Local Tourists to ‘Do Something New’

Nadine Toe Toe and her family run Kohutapu Lodge and Tribal Tours in Murupara, a northeastern village of about 2,000 people, of whom about 90 percent are Maori. Before the pandemic, about 98 percent of the company’s customers came from overseas.

“We wanted to create a really truthful, real, cultural experience that shows our history, but also our reality,” Ms. Toe Toe, 43, said. “When Covid struck and we lost all our business overnight, we were suddenly faced with the reality that the domestic market does not do ‘cultural products’ — it’s not on the priority list.”

To draw local visitors, the business had to rebrand, she said. That meant moving away from delivering an immersive experience of contemporary Maori culture, which many New Zealanders may already believe they know well.

“Before Covid, it was always our culture that was at the forefront — that we can proudly stand there and tell the world who we are, where we’re from, why it’s important to be Maori,” she said. “We are no longer a cultural tourism experience. We are now a lakeside accommodation.”

Larger businesses are also struggling. “We’re suffering, there’s no doubt about that,” said Sir John Davies, 79, a businessman who owns multiple ski fields, the guided walks at the Routeburn and Milford tracks and the Hermitage Hotel in Mount Cook National Park.

Recently, he said, the Hermitage had 20 guests, down from about 600 in a typical year. He has had to cut staff at the hotel from 230 to fewer than 50. “It turned over $18,000 yesterday — the lowest I’ve ever seen in 25 years,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to get domestic tourists. I mean, we always have.”

Tourist spots around the world, from New York to the Himalayas, have struggled without sightseer dollars. In Bali, the Indonesian vacation spot, some hospitality workers have returned to farming. Some places, like Istanbul, have tried to soldier on. Others, like Hawaii, are reopening nervously.

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