Hospitality isn’t just an aspiration in New Zealand –– it’s a key value in the country’s indigenous Māori culture. The Māori custom of manaakitanga, loosely translated as hospitality, infuses Māori culture and inspires the contemporary New Zealand visitor experience, summing up the act of welcoming and sharing. For an incentive group, it’s the spirit of manaakitanga that makes a New Zealand experience so unique.

New Zealand’s rich history of prioritizing hospitality helps it stand out as an ideal incentive destination that provides engaging and inspiring experiences to groups, companies, and organizations. “New Zealand’s unique style of hosting is what really sets it apart as an incentive destination,” said Alexa Bennett, business events manager, North America, of Tourism New Zealand. “The friendly locals are always willing to go above and beyond to ensure visitors receive a warm, genuine welcome and feel at home, leaving a lasting impression.”

Here, we look at three examples of New Zealand experiences that showcase the country’s custom of manaakitanga and its power to deliver exceptional group and incentive travel experiences.

The Hobbiton Movie Set: An Immersive Experience for Incentive Groups

Fans of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit will recognize Middle-earth when they arrive at a 1,250-acre sheep and beef farm in Waikato, now home to the Hobbiton movie set. Originally constructed for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies, it allows guests to grab a behind-the-scenes look at 44 unique Hobbit Holes and get insight from tour guides into the filming of the movies.

“Incentive groups typically choose our venue because of the unique Middle-earth experience, and our staff is passionate about showcasing it,” said Shayne Forrest, general manager, sales and marketing, of the Hobbiton Movie Set. “The staff goes above and beyond to make incentive groups feel welcome by placing the group’s corporate logo in ‘Middle Earth font’ throughout the Marketplace area,” he added. “For large groups we also bring in a 40-foot high “water screen” –– an arc of water on which images can be shown, much like a movie screen –– that can project company welcome messages in the middle of the Hobbiton Movie Set.

“Our menus can be customized to suit a particular group, but our most notable menu is the evening banquet feast. Served inside the Green Dragon Inn for small groups of up to 64 guests, the feast is modeled on the scene from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, where the dwarves come to eat at Bilbo’s home, Bag End. With roast chickens, lamb shanks, beef and ale casserole, salads, and sides, the banquet feast is served hot and family style at tables for 12 guests,” said Forrest.

Luxury cruise line Crystal Cruises held a company gala at the Hobbiton Movie Set. “Our guests, who have traveled the world and are accustomed to the six-star service onboard, raved about the outstanding service and were mesmerized by the venue,” said John Stoll, vice president, land programs, of Crystal Cruises.

At the Hobbiton Movie Set, more than 650 guests of Crystal Cruises were immersed in another world that featured local actors, costumed guides, roaming entertainment including fire breathers, and a sound, water, and light show, themed food and beverages, and a guided tour of the set.

Robertson Lodges: Delivering Next-Level Hospitality Through Up-Close Experiences

A trio of properties –– The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, and Matakauri Lodge –– together known as Robertson Lodges, also demonstrates New Zealand hospitality while providing memorable incentive experiences to travelers.

According to Michele Ballantine-Wooley, group sales manager at Robertson Lodges, the unusual dining locations that the properties offer are especially popular with incentive guests at the properties. “We often organize private gourmet barbecues on our Pink Beach,” she said. “Divers will collect fresh crayfish while guests witness how this local delicacy is prepared firsthand.”

Groups that exceed the capacity of one lodge can be spread across multiple lodges and housed based on their interests, such as wineries, wildlife, cycling, culture, hiking, fishing, skiing, jet boating, bungee jumping, and sailing, among other activity types.

For one incentive group that did just that during an eight day adventure, the program was multi-faceted. It included golf, a gourmet barbecue picnic on the pink beach at Kauri Cliffs, a champagne stop on a glacier, a jet boat safari, and an exploration of wineries in the Central Otago region. The group also visited famous sites, including Waitangi, historic Russell, the Gannet colonies, Milford Sound, and the Cape Kidnappers Sanctuary –– the largest privately-funded sanctuary in the country.

A member of the Relais & Chateaux brand, Robertson Lodges has proved its success as an incentive destination. “It’s very common for our incentive clients to return and try one of the other lodges,” said Wiggins. “It’s also common for an executive to come on vacation and later contact us about bringing in an incentive group. The three locations deliver next-level service with a focus on up-close, authentic experiences.”

Te Puia: Showcasing New Zealand’s Rich Traditions and Geography

The village of Te Puia, home to some of the country’s most stunning natural wonders, has been hosting visitors to the Te Whakarewarewa Valley for generations. Travelers to Te Puia can visit the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, which hosts the national schools of wood carving, weaving, stone, and bone carving, as well as view geothermal attractions such as the Pohutu geyser, mud pools, hot springs, and silica formations.

During the day, Te Puia guides share stories of their ancestors, and guests can witness Māori carving and weaving, a kiwi viewing house, and more cultural attractions. Evening attractions at Te Puia include a Māori feast, a valley tour under lights, and cultural performances. A visit also includes a welcoming ceremony and concert, where visitors are invited to join performers on stage.

“Many of Te Puia’s people are direct descendants of the original guides of the valley who were world-famous for their hospitality,” stated Kiri Atkinson-Crean, general manager, sales and marketing, of Te Puia. “This philosophy is central to the experience offered.”

To learn more about how you can deliver engaging and inspiring experiences to your group, company, or organization in New Zealand, click here.

This content was created in collaboration with Tourism New Zealand and published by Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.