Here through the Foundation’s ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative, the entrepreneurs kicked off their time in New Zealand where most tourists do – in Auckland. However, from there they deviated from the typical tourist itinerary.
The group's introduction to the city was by way of a tour of Bastion Point, led by a guide from local iwi Ngati Whatua, who recounted the fraught history of the site and the wider region.
The group’s week-long visit included visits to several Māori-run tourism ventures, including Te Puia in Rotorua. There the entrepreneurs got to experience not only the hot pools and geysers the region is famous for but also take in powhiri and haka and observe students at Te Puia’s Māori crafts training school learning to carve and weave.
“Seeing thriving indigenous-led tourism companies has been a real eye-opener in what we can do in my own country,” says Nella Lomotan, who runs social enterprise Eco Explorations in the Philippines.
“It may take a while and will not be an easy process, but it should definitely be something we move towards,” she says.
In Rotorua, a networking evening gave local tourism operators the opportunity to meet the visiting group and hear from three of the entrepreneurs about their business journeys.
Tan (Shu) Thi Su, Vietnam; Amornched (Taro) Jinda-Apiraksa, Thailand; and Marinella (Nella) Lomotan, the Philippines, spoke to local tour operators at a networking event in Rotorua
The speakers for the evening included Tan Thi Su, who established Sapa O’Chau Travel in 2013 —Vietnam’s first ethnic-minority-owned tour company.
Thi Su, who is Hmong (a people living mainly in an area bordering China, Vietnam and Laos), spoke of the importance for ethnic-minority groups to tell their own stories and the difficulties she had to overcome to get her business off the ground.
“It was a long process and because we are an ethnic minority and no one had done what I was doing before, people said it would be too difficult, but I had a dream and wanted to help my people, so I did it,” she says.
One of the entrepreneurs, Arthur Alipio, taking a selfie with a sheep at the Agrodome in Rotorua
As well as introducing the group to New Zealand’s Māori tourism industry, the itinerary focussed on eco and adventure tourism.
In Auckland, the group met with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Tourism NZ. At DOC they learnt about how the government department tasked with stewardship of a third of New Zealand’s land area balances tourism activities with care for the environment.
The industry’s focus on sustainability was another area where the Southeast Asian entrepreneurs thought New Zealand excelled, at least when compared to most other countries.
Achi Tamparipattra, who is the co-founder of Thai travel company HiverSters, says she was impressed by the cohesive environmental messaging that spanned the businesses the entrepreneurs visited.
“I find it fascinating that everywhere I go, whether it’s the airline, the tours or the attractions, they embody the Tiaki Promise [an initiative to help travellers to New Zealand care for people, place and culture] and that’s something I find amazing - that you’re not only raising awareness but also teaching the tourists and the operators throughout the supply chain about sustainable tourism.”
Ammar Sharin, founder of ARBA Travel, a company that caters to Muslims tourists, says one area New Zealand might be missing a trick is with halal tourism.
He says the burgeoning middle class in Indonesia and Malaysia means the number of people looking to travel in a way that allows them to abide by the rules of Islam is growing.
“All we really need to focus on with halal tourism is the food and the prayer time,” Sharin says.
“I think the understanding of halal tourism is not actually common in New Zealand, but from what I hear 90 percent of meat in New Zealand is halal and it doesn’t take too much to accommodate a place to pray, so I think New Zealand just needs to promote this more and that will attract more Muslim tourists.”
At Te Puia, the entrepreneurs got to experience a powhiri, learn about the kiwi conservation and observe students learning to weave and carve
The entrepreneur’s week in New Zealand wrapped up in Christchurch where they met with Ngai Tahu Tourism, met local tourism operators at a networking event and attended the New Zealand Tourism Awards.
“In New Zealand, we’re proud of the experience we provide tourists but hearing first hand from such innovative group that much of what we do is world-leading is definitely encouraging,” says the Foundation’s director of leadership and entrepreneurship Adam McConnochie.
“But it’s also good for tourism operators to hear about where there is room for improvement and where they might fill a niche in the market.”
The ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative is a key part of the New Zealand Government’s ASEAN Strategy. The Asia New Zealand Foundation has been managing the initiative since 2012 on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, running sector-specific programmes for Southeast Asian entrepreneurs in New Zealand, and New Zealand entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia.