Minister Challenges Cultural Identity Offered to Tourists

  • Marie Hasler
Cultural Affairs

Too often tourists who come to New Zealand get a limited and simplified view of New Zealand life, the Minister of Cultural Affairs Marie Hasler, told delegates to the tourist symposium Capturing the Cultural Tourist, in Nelson today.

"Is a complex culture being reduced to a set of cliches and icons drawn from stock themes - scenery, agriculture, and the ceremonial aspects of Maori culture?

"The simplified New Zealand of brochures, postcards and gift-shops may seem innocent and harmless enough. But, we should be concerned about what this simplification is doing to our identity internationally.

"Are we presenting ourselves to overseas people in ways encouraging them to hold on to the preconceptions they already have, rather than developing a more subtle and accurate view of the country as it is?

"And do the stock themes of tourism distort the view New Zealanders have of their own country?"

Ms Hasler says poised as we are on the eve of the new millennium with events next year, including APEC and the challenge for the America's Cup, bringing an international eye to New Zealand, now is the time to take stock and consider what our unique cultural heritage offers us.

"Here in New Zealand we are fortunate to have different heritages and we are in the fortunate position to capture the cultural tourist.

"I believe we should target the informed tourist. Culturally informed tourists are very influential among their fellow travellers, who look to them for guidance and advice.

"A greater effort can be made to appeal to the relatively independent and informed tourist. Perhaps starting with campaigns in his or her own country.

"We can encourage extended visits by people with a serious interest in exploring New Zealand history and culture. We can alert them to the range of cultural experiences on offer during the time they plan to visit.

"At the same time, the content of mass-market campaigns can be broadened. if diversified in this way it would provide a greater idea of New Zealand's cultural life.

"Such a change in marketing would spread the flow of visitors and reduce the pressure on the usual destinations. It would have obvious benefit to other regions in the country.

"Nelson, with its cornucopia of cultural wealth, I think could particularly benefit.

"Never forget to involve your local residents. Regional festivals and museums have their appeal to visitors strengthened when they are valued by the communities in which they are based.

"Nelson through such events as this, the Wearable Arts Awards and the Nelson Arts Festival, is setting a brilliant example.

"Also, I would like to urge you to continue to respect scholarship. As well as being endorsed in their community, cultural and historical attractions should be informed by genuine scholarship.

"At times this view may not meet with the understanding or approval of parts of the community, but it is essential for cultural tourism to have a legitimate scholarly base.

"This symposium, an excellent idea in itself, clearly shows Nelson is being innovative. It shows it is thinking about its cultural identity. It is clearly working on how best it can capture the cultural tourist.

"Too often in New Zealand there is a tendency to keep the arts in a separate compartment, not allowing them to alter and enrich our daily lives.

"Nelson comes closer than most New Zealand cities to integrating the arts into ordinary life. Nelson craftspeople show this principle in action, by combining beauty and function in everyday objects."