Rotorua Museum of Art and History

Greg McManus


Rotorua Museum of Art and History

Government Gardens Rotorua New Zealand

The Reinvention of Rotorua Museum: A New Zealand Tourism Success Story

Rotorua Museum is not the largest museum in New Zealand. It doesn't have the best collection in the country nor the biggest budget. In fact, Rotorua Museum is quite small, even by New Zealand standards, with a fulltime staff of 15 and an annual operating budget of around NZ$2.1 million (euro;1.1 million or US$1.25 million).

Despite its limitations of size, scale, and budget, however, Rotorua Museum has been the most successful heritage attraction in New Zealand over the past five years, winning five national Tourism Awards and consistently outperforming much larger museums, including the New Zealand national museum, Te Papa, year on year.

So, how did a small, relatively poorly performing provincial museum transform itself into a hugely successful, "must-see" tourism attraction in such a short time? Our presentation will trace the transformation, or what we like to call the reinvention, of Rotorua Museum, and describe what we have learnt along the way.

Rotorua Museum, through accidents of geography and history, is perfectly situated to take advantage of New Zealand's exploding cultural tourism industry. The Rotorua region is famous throughout the world as one of the premier geothermal destinations on the planet with bubbling mud, steam and giant hot water geysers seemingly on every street corner. In addition, Rotorua is also famous as a centre of the indigenous Maori people, a Polynesian culture which flourished in the area for several hundred years before European colonisation in the early nineteenth century.

Thus the Rotorua area is blessed with the unique and irresistible combination of a fascinating indigenous culture and raw natural beauty and has been New Zealand's premier visitor destination for over 150 years, now attracting millions of visitors from around the world each year.

As well as being situated in a major visitor destination, Rotorua Museum has the added advantage of occupying one of New Zealand's most famous historic buildings, a European-style Bath House built in 1908 in beautiful Government Gardens, a large public park located in the heart of central Rotorua. The building has a fascinating history as a therapeutic spa, a history with increasing relevance today as Rotorua attempts to confirm and enhance its reputation as the "Great South Seas Spa".

Through an ongoing programme of product development, including major new exhibitions, cinema experiences, improved service standards and a programme of building restoration,  Rotorua Museum has repositioned itself as a major participant in the Rotorua visitor sector. Our presentation will trace these developments and how they have been carefully and successfully aligned with the traditional core responsibilities of a community museum, as well as with the mega-branding "100% Pure New Zealand" campaign run worldwide by Tourism New Zealand for the past three years.

What we hope to demonstrate in our presentation is that it is possible to satisfy the sometimes conflicting requirements of local communities and the tourist market, and that it is possible to successfully achieve both to a very high level without compromising traditional museological values.

We hope you enjoy the story of our journey, we have certainly enjoyed bringing it to you!


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