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Last month I had the pleasure of attending the New Zealand Māori tourism Dragon's Den awards in Otautahi, Christchurch.

The two-day hui saw participants pitch their business or idea to a panel of taniwha (dragon) judges for a chance to win one of four titles and a $10,000 cash prize.

It was inspiring to meet the many operators who shared their stories of innovation and success.

Aotearoa New Zealand benefits when we embrace and celebrate what makes us unique.

Our Māori heritage and culture adds considerable value - from the value of people, places, flavours, sights and sounds - to our economy.

New Zealand tourism is a $39 billion industry, and there are over five million visits made to Māori tourism activities each year. Activities like our very own Whanganui River tours which explore the environment, people and experiences of Whanganui's Māori ancestors. The operators are passionate about sharing their stories and manaakitanga (hospitality) with domestic and international visitors.

Our awa (river) will feature on the world stage next year at Expo 2020 in Dubai. New Zealand Trade and Enterprise will work with Whanganui iwi in sharing the story of Te Awa Tupua – the settlement that recognises the Whanganui River as a living entity. New Zealand's pavilion will be themed Care for People and Place, and will draw inspiration from the indigenous environmental ethos of kaitiakitanga (guardianship).

We have the spectacular river, beautiful heritage buildings, a vibrant arts scene, and we're a gateway to the Tongariro National Park. Whanganui is currently celebrating Heritage Month and the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui commemorates 100 years on Saturday. Developing, restoring and protecting these features of the Whanganui history and heritage-scape makes us an attractive city to visitors and a potential hotspot for tourism.

Accolades like being named a finalist in the Keep New Zealand Beautiful Awards only adds to this potential. Whanganui takes on Hutt City for the Most Beautiful City title and Ridgway St is up for Best Street. These awards recognise environmental excellence and our efforts in sustainability and beautification.

I was disheartened to read of the increase in complaints made to the Whanganui District Council regarding illegal rubbish-dumping, however, encouraged that so many of us are committed to keeping our public roads and spaces clean, and our reputation intact. I welcome the council's anti-rubbish dumping campaign due to start later this year and encourage us all to do our part to preserve, respect and enhance Whanganui.

As MP for Whanganui and National Party spokeswoman for Māori tourism, I am excited by the growth and potential for innovation and industry in the sector and in our regions. Tourism allows us to offer authentic insight into our culture, traditions, environment and te ao Māori – the Māori world.

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