Taranaki’s increasing reputation as a top holiday destination prompted three separate Māori commercial entities to join together and invest in the region’s growing visitor industry.

Ngāmotu Hotels Limited Partnership, a joint venture of Parininihi ki Waitōtara Inc, Te Atiawa Iwi Holdings, and Taranaki Iwi Holdings, bought the 85-room Novotel New Plymouth Hobson Hotel from successful entrepreneur Phillip Brown on 1 January 2019.

Brown, who established the international online tendering company Tenderlink in Taranaki and sold it to Fairfax Media in 2010, built the 4.5-star premier hotel in 2015. Part of the international Accor Hotels Group, the $25 million hotel was built to service the growing demand for tourist accommodation in New Plymouth.

Taranaki has become a popular destination for visitors wishing to connect with the environment and culture in a region that boasts a stunning national park, outstanding art and culture gatherings, modern cafés and restaurants, craft breweries and food producers, and world-class events.

And it was this growing reputation and the unlimited potential for Taranaki to expand on its tourism offerings that encouraged the three iwi commercial entities to invest together.

“It’s a good investment,” says Ngāmotu Hotels Limited Partnership chair Warrick Tauwhare-George. “It is local, it is substantial, and it is working with a lot of people – staff, Accor, and a growing customer base both domestically and internationally.

“When the opportunity came up, it could have been quite easy for just one of the entities to buy it in their own right. But the parties built the relationships, trust and confidence to look beyond and know that, over time, shared multiple investments and multiple opportunities are better for the whole than the individuals,” Warrick says.

Statistics from Tourism New Zealand show that between 2002 and 2019, guest nights in Taranaki increased from 380,000 to 675,000 – a 78% growth.

In the year to January 2020, visitor spend in the region was an estimated $429 million – the third highest growth rate in the country.

In addition, the regional development strategy Tapuae Roa: Make Way for Taranaki Action Plan (2018) has forecast annual Taranaki visitor numbers to increase from 1.1 million to 1.8 million by 2025.

The COVID-19 pandemic may push that forecast backwards, creating an unpredictable hospitality market.

Taranaki has a lot to offer potential visitor industry and hospitality investors, including Māori.

Addressing the uncertainty, Warrick explains “Ngāmotu Hotels Limited Partnership entered the pandemic in a financially strong position, and as with any such investment, you need to have a strategy that is founded on a long-term view, thereby ensuring you are not forced into short-term suboptimal decisions.”

In the same situation as other hotels around the country, during Alert Level 4, the Novotel Ngāmotu Taranaki Hotel went into hibernation with a skeleton crew maintaining the assist over this period. Once the country moved to Alert Level 3 the hotel re-opened with bookings and occupancy almost immediately following.

“While occupancy numbers were certainly not as per pre-COVID, like a number of other businesses in the region, the Queen’s Birthday weekend after lockdown saw occupancy levels exceed 80% of capacity, which is very encouraging and just reinforces the view that the partnership invested in a very sound, well performing asset. This also indicates that people are willing to travel, to visit Taranaki and see what is on offer in the region.”

“Looking from an outside-in perspective, I’ve spent enough time here to appreciate that Taranaki has great offers. It’s a little gem. Whether it’s the Taranaki Garden Festival, WOMAD, the tattoo festival, or whether it’s the waterfront, or the beauty and majesty of the maunga – Taranaki has a lot to offer and it can differentiate itself from a lot of other parts of New Zealand.

“And there’s definitely more opportunity for iwi to invest in Taranaki. I think there’s enough capacity for those within Taranaki to do more, so I think there will be further commitments made here. But it’s not exclusively Taranaki iwi dependent – there is an openness to outside Māori investment.”

He says there is also a real drive and willingness by local authorities to engage with investors to ensure regional progress and development is ongoing.

“The private sector and councils work really well together. The city and region are a credit to that in how they present themselves, which is a drawcard to visitors,” Warrick says.

“Venture Taranaki is also structured well and operates well, and is one of the few regional development organisations in New Zealand that can be held up as a good example. I see Taranaki as not only having fantastic features that appeal to visitors and investors, but it also has a coordinated approach among council, the private sector and Venture Taranaki that works well.”

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