A whānau-run Māori tourism business is finishing the year on a high after being recognised for rangatiratanga in two separate awards in 2019.
Luxury and adventure tourism operator MDA Experiences (Multi-Day Adventures), from Rotorua, was awarded He Kai Kei Aku Ringa at the NZ Tourism awards in Ōtautahi in October.
Earlier in the year, MDA Experiences co-owner Takurua Mutu (Ngāti Pikiao) was also recognised as University of Auckland’s Young Māori Business Leader of the year.
The award recognised a person under 35 who has achieved significant success in their career to date and is a business leader now and in the future.
MDA co-owner Takurua Mutu with partner Jayne Hendrikse at the NZ Tourism Awards in October.
The 34-year-old was awarded alongside NZ Māori Tourism Chief Executive Pania Tyson-Nathan (Rongomaiwahine, Ngati Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou), who was recognised as the Māori Woman Business Leader of the year.
Takurua said the recognition confirmed that mahi was headed in the right direction.
“It has reminded us to keep trusting that we are doing things the right way and to continue building on what we have done,” Takurua said.
He Kai Kei Aku Ringa, supported by NZ Māori Tourism, was a category in the annual NZ Tourism awards, hosted by Tourism Industry Aotearoa in October.
The award acknowledged a commercial tourism business that delivered an authentic Māori tourism visitor experience or product, incorporated the core values of manaakitanga, kaitiakitanga and whanaungatanga into its business and its visitor offering, and demonstrated rangatiratanga within the tourism industry.
MDA Experiences, which was up against Kaitiaki Adventures and Te Wharewaka o Pōneke in the category, was selected based on its strong visitor and revenue growth along with very strong contributions back to the Māori community in the form of business opportunities, koha to marae, mentoring and employment.
“It was a truly humbling experience and perfectly timed to make me refocus and get on with our mahi,” Takurua said.
“It has reminded us to keep trusting that we are doing things the right way and to continue building on what we have done."
Takurua graduated high school with a longing for the outdoors. His first mahi saw him take manuhiri down the Kaituna Awa as a raft and sledge guide with Kaitiaki Adventures (who was a finalist in two categories at the NZ Tourism Awards).
“I got involved (in tourism) because I loved taking people into the outdoors and enjoying everything that our moana, awa and ngahere had to offer,” he said.
MDA Experiences began in 1989 as Priceless Experiences under Kim Price (who is considered to be one of the forefathers of the modern-day adventure industry). It wasn’t until 2007 that Takurua, locally known as Tak, stepped in as a guide and office administration support.
Fast forward to 2009 and Tak bought into the business. By 2011, Tak and his brother Tuhua had full ownership of MDA Experiences and Mountain Bike Rotorua, another arm of the business.
Starting out, the business had just three full-time staff. Today, MDA Experiences has over 30 full time staff – with 40 staff in total.
The business caters for luxury and exclusive itineraries, but also offers mountain bike tours through the Redwoods Forest, rafting on the Kaituna river, cycling through the city, rock climbing, sailing and more.
“Most of our tours are custom made to suit each individual client and we provide a unique blend between culture, adventure and luxury,” Tak said.
The next phase for MDA Experiences is working on “the big projects”.
“We have established ourselves enough to look to go bigger, partnering with iwi organisations and aiming to develop partnerships that see our people grow to a new level. That’s the short-term goal,” he said.
“Long term, I want to get in to developing and growing community projects. Hopefully sooner rather than later.”
“I look bigger than just tourism; I look at the community as a whole. Tourism, hospitality and events is how I put food on the table, but I like to think our whānau contribute to the greater community. I think that is the way every business should be focusing,” he said.
Tak’s advice for those starting out in tourism:
1) Surround yourself with positive people. They will lift you, always.
2) Always consider the big picture. I pride myself on looking at the future and making decisions that have the greater good, even on occasion to my own detriment. If I have to make a sacrifice that contributes to the big picture, then that is the right decision to make.