Nga mihi o te tau hou kia kotou – Happy New Year everyone!
As no doubt many of you will have done, the first morning back after the summer break was spent catching up with colleagues about what we had got up to over the break. Most of the NZ Māori Tourism team travelled out of Wellington over that time– to the East Coast, Hawke’s Bay, West Coast of the South Island, top of the South, Waikato, Taranaki, and Central North Island; in fact between the six of us we covered some miles.
With that comes a lot of discussion about the various experiences we had during our travels. Everything from booking into the heart break motel – you know the one – when you pull into the driveway and the sign is on a lean and the grass is long. You just know what’s in store – if you use the oven the element doesn’t work or you need to retrain to use the microwave – oh actually it’s more simple than the modern ones , turn the dial and it starts. It is surprising how you make do when you’re hungry. Yes, I can hear you say ‘go somewhere else’ - there was nowhere else! There was one saving grace, they were so lovely, I mean really lovely – very little English but we got through it. That said I suspect we were the first humans they had seen for a very long time.
Talking about hunger, another colleague spoke of her experience in an un-named fast food restaurant. Just as she had ordered a large group of non-speaking punters arrived. They just wanted to order food but language in this instance was a significant barrier. The solution - staffer goes to the back and brings out one of his colleagues who was able to communicate adequately enough that orders were taken and visitors were fed!
As visitor numbers grow, especially from non-English speaking countries (look at those emerging markets) we have some interesting challenges ahead, in particular around communication. Add to that our sector is made up of largely small business, so it is difficult, and in many cases, just not possible to have staff who are multi-lingual. Some people have adopted some practical ways of dealing with this issue and they include pictures. Pictures on the menu, pictures on toilet doors, pictures at hotel and motel check-ins. Not costly and not difficult if you have a computer.
We recently attended the launch of the Queenstown Resort College in Northland and picked up an elderly hitch-hiker on our way. He was Japanese, unfortunately we don’t speak Japanese and he didn’t speak English. Technology – of course – saved the day. We found an app and started to converse with each other. Very quickly we managed to build a rapport and importantly we were able to take care of him. We were very lucky to have met this kaumatua, I mean who gets to hang out with an 80 year old hitch hiker from another country who is so full of life and adventure. Now that’s Mana!
Mr Sakamoto has been hitch hiking around New Zealand on his own for the past two months and has about another month to go. He had not left Japan in 50 years, as he was busy working and raising his family. He decided to come to New Zealand as he heard it was very safe, and very beautiful.
Yes, our conversation with him was stilted and it took time. We had to simplify our questions and watch our use of colloquialisms. We used a combination of audio and visual, including body language and facial expressions. A dawn walk around the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi with barely ten words spoken between us all. At every turn there was something different, the view, the sunrise, the foliage… the expression on his face spoke a thousand words!
CEO of NZ Māori Tourism
This column was first published in the Accommodation Management Guide, February 2016.