The bus drivers who take tourists from their Rotorua hotel to the Tamaki Māori Village aren’t bus drivers. They are story tellers who take tourists on an enthralling cultural journey.
Much of the experience at the award-winning attraction is captivating story-telling: about the people, the land, the place, the ancestral myths and legends. This rich history, combined with a warm welcome for visitors the moment they climb aboard the bus, drives huge business success.
“Our drivers are entertainers, hosts and guides who tell the history of the region,” says Tamaki Māori Village HR and Office Manager Kim Watson-Tanga.
“The feedback we get from our guests is all about the friendliness of our people and how willing we are to show off our culture and heritage. We are telling a story right from the moment we meet our visitors.”
The Tamaki Māori Village stages one show per night and attracts at least 100,000 visitors a year - not bad for a business that got started with a ‘For Sale’ sign: in 1989, Mike Tamaki couldn’t get a bank loan so he persuaded his brother Doug to sell his Harley Davidson motorbike to help fund a second-hand minibus and create the beginnings of a pre-European Māori village.
Today, the popular destination is the most awarded cultural destination in New Zealand and on the bucket list of thousands of tourists from all over the world. The 3.5 hour experience is set in the specially constructed village among native forest. Traditional ceremonies, hands-on learning activities and moving cultural performances are all included in the event that finishes with a traditional Maori hangi feast.
It takes 140 staff to run the show over the peak season. Kim has a skilled team taking care of local and international reservations, payments and making sure visitors, who include many large, non-English-speaking tour groups, have everything they need.
“Customer service is the main topic I get our people to focus on throughout their on-job training,” says Kim. “To a great extent, they already do this very well and they just needed to understand a little bit more.”
In the last year, six staff, including four front-of-house and two bus drivers, have successfully gained a ServiceIQ New Zealand Certificate in Tourism (Visitor Experience) Level 3 qualification.
“I wanted the Visitor Experience programme for our people because there are lots of useful options to choose from. This includes knowledge that is helpful for our people working in administrative roles, and communications and market information that is useful for our drivers,” says Kim.
“Our people now have a greater awareness of the bigger picture of tourism in New Zealand and how everything works together. We also have a changing audience and this means that our team have had to learn other ways of communicating effectively with more and more visitors who don’t speak English.
Kim recommends the programme to other tourism businesses who want staff to build skills and confidence on the job.
When Kim presented Tamaki Village team member Cappy Howard with his certificate, he said: “I was pleasantly surprised that I achieved the award. Sign me up for the next one please.”