Information and communications technology are changing our lives in ways that we cannot easily foresee. These emerging technologies have be-come amazing forces for enabling people to con-nect. Dramatic as the impacts have been, this is just the beginning.
New Zealand is at a critical juncture in the history of communications. As the Digital or Information Age moves along forward, more and more we see that it is creating a new renaissance – a new paradigm that enables individuals to empower themselves. Yet, its full potential is not being realized in service of their communities – the physical places where they live and work.
Our communities have vast communications and information needs not fully understood. The inherent benefits of using Internet technologies and the Web as tools and enabling agents are not exploited as they should be. If it were, it would serve all New Zealanders and their local communities more equally. How we react individually and collectively to this democratic shortfall, can affect the quality of our lives.
FABRIC OF THEIR LIVES
People weave the fabric of their lives largely through stories, not abstract concepts. If this is true for people, then it is true also for communities and nations. When told, stories make present to us events which may have occurred in the past but which reveal core truths in themselves – ones that either energize or demoralize us for the future.
Many of the struggles that individuals, families and communities undergo have also to do with a need to tell others about their own stories, not to be just characters in someone else’s.
The stories they relate that contain information and even some knowledge can be likened somewhat to the warp and weft of a whāriki or mat being laid out for you to sit upon, with the strength of the whole resting entirely in their choice of colours, texture and type of fibres used; their understanding of the purpose for which the mat will be put; and, the impact its design will influence those who sit upon it to listen.
So we want to tell you story that has a little more of something behind it, in case it’s missed.
BIG IDEA, SMALL BOAT
You might have recently watched a television ad sponsored by a large bank about whale watching. On the surface, it’s a story about how a small community faced up to a challenge for their survival head-on and surmounted the odds stacked up against them.
But there’s also a second story behind it. It’s about what they discovered in the process, what they learned and what they did to sustain a new way of living for themselves and their families.
The economic climate back in 1987 was a brutal one for many communities in New Zealand. Deep cuts in public spending and community support in that period hit towns hard across the breadth of New Zealand. It was a time when large numbers of Māori became casualties of a fast declining economy.
But even in that tough economic climate four families living in a small town called Kaikoura banded together and decided to build a financial base for themselves and their community and secure the welfare of generations to come. They established a new business neither any of them knew too well about.
It started with a big idea that included a boat. Inspired by the legend of their ancestor Paikea, who had journeyed to a new life in New Zealand on the back of the whale Tohora., it seemed appropriate for Paikea’s descendants to again ride on the back of the whale to a new life.
The founders, along with most of the members of Kaikoura’s small community (pop. 3,500), made their living from the ocean. That sense of respect for their cultural values and the environment they lived in were embedded in the collective consciousness of that community. But they were unable to secure funding from the banks. Instead, these accidental entrepreneurs mortgaged their homes to fund the project.
Eventually, they bought that small boat, a small inflatable vessel, and started taking local tourists out to see the whales – the same sort of folk whose only reason for making a brief stop-over in Kaikoura was either to top up their cars with petrol or as a brief pie stop on the way to the Picton ferry before heading off south to one of the country’s foremost tourist destinations.
‘WE HAD NO CHOICE’
“Honestly, we had no choice – it was about sur-vival,” says Marcus Solomon, now a Director of the company whose father was a founder. “Our people were becoming the main statistic for drug and alcohol abuse in New Zealand. Our children were leaving school at 15, without jobs”.
Thus was born Whale Watch Kaikoura Ltd. – one of the more successful non-profit, Maori-run co-oper-ative projects in New Zealand. Twenty-three years on, it is the region’s biggest employer, with a full-time staff of 77, a custom-built marina, a fleet of six pur-pose-built catamarans and an annual turnover of $NZ 10-million.
The venture has also been a catalyst for the social and economic revival of what was once a poor, neglected and sleepy town. As a result of its activities, the company has stimulated investment in new accommodation, restaurants and an impressive array of cafes and galleries. Kaikoura is now a bustling village of new community-owned businesses welcoming hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world every year.
KILLERS OF LOCAL ECONOMIES
The world of the late 1980s, as it is again today, presents many of the same challenges that cannot be met by central government acting alone. Recessions that hit our shores may not come as often as do the pods of whales who visit Kaikoura’s coastline but they most certainly being along the deep cuts in public spending which support communities who have no other fallback to lean on but that. In that sense, recessions are the killers of local economies.
There’s a commonly-used expression in Kaikoura that says, “Those who sleep under the mountains do not see them”, and the resilient people of Kaikoura knew early on that a ‘killer whale’ of the economic type would come back some day. To guard against that threat meant becoming more sustainable as their new livelihood was still vulnerable. They would need for it to grow much bigger. It was an insurance policy they’d use to soften the sharp edges of the next recessions.
But to achieve this, they had to find a way to reach out further and tell their story for the rest of the world to know.
WORLD FAMOUS, PERIOD.
The second story about the community of Kaikoura is not so much about why or even how they be-came world famous in New Zealand, but what they did to become world famous, period.
In this context, the people of Kaikoura have another cultural-based phrase which is expressed face-to-face in these words: “kanohi ki te kanohi”, my breath, your breath. In a way, it suggests that a destination is more than just a place on the map – it’s the people you meet there and the experiences you share. Because tourism carries a huge res-ponsibility, “its arms much reach far and wide”, Marcus Solomon adds.
And so it proved to be when Whale Watch Kaikoura Ltd. discovered what the Internet and the World Wide Web could do for their company, their community and the indigenous Kati Kuri people of Kaikoura, a sub-tribe of the South Island’s larger Ngai Tahu tribe.
It started with a simple website which has evolved to become an indispensible tool for disseminating information vital to the healthy functioning of its core business.
They have employed web-based tools in creating a unique, award-winning series of animation sequen-ces designed to showcase several of Kaikoura’s hidden undersea wonders. These digitally-ren-dered animations and graphics are found in an often-visited section of their website called The Tour Experience.
They’ve recently made use of online viral marketing tools creating their own pages in Facebook and Twitter.com, both incidentally being the top social networking websites in the world. Clever additions to their growing list of web assets. We expect there will be even more coming as they grow from strength to strength.
They also promote stories of their business and about its major products – the whales and Kaikoura as a tourist destination in New Zealand using a number of uploaded streaming video clips in YouTube on the Web for the rest of the world to see, which in turn, supports their relationship with Bank of New Zealand through a promotional tie-up doing much the same thing but with a different audience in mind.
Whale Watch Kaikoura Ltd. is now a multiple-awarded nature tourism company that has embraced new media forms in unique and powerful ways. It has rapidly adopted new information and communications technologies and new skills for promoting and disseminating their story in a world increasingly powered by broadband connectivity. Oh, lest we forget, their name is now also a catchword in Google key word search results.
The power of the Internet and the Web obviously together have demonstrated that it is a catalyst for social and economic revival for what was once a poor, neglected community in dire straits. Who would have thought that a small group of 3,500 people and their families could achieve this much and go this far?
This is their story. One day, it could be yours too.