If you’re looking for a different way to experience Queenstown, you’ll find people, places and hospitality on the Check In platform that you would never find from a Google search.

Sisters Karmela and Maria Rapata have over 27 years of shared tourism and hospitality experience. In 2012, Maria started a business helping people manage their home services and holiday homes. Karmela brings over seventeen years of tourism experience and has a passion for visitor product development. Together, they saw an opportunity to connect and grow with the people of their region.

In 2020, Maria and Karmela joined forces to create Check In.

Check In is Queenstown’s local concierge and offers curated experiences and elevated home stays focused on showcasing all that the city has to offer. Curated experiences can be anything from inviting a local artist to a holiday home for an afternoon of landscape painting, or participating in a community project like tree planting.

Check In is built around the concept of manaakitanga, which refers to showing respect, generosity and care for others through hospitality, kindness and support.

“[Growing up] our home was the centre of the neighbourhood universe and everybody was welcome. Our parents had an open door policy where there was always food on the table and a welcoming smile. So, manaaki is a core value of our business,” said Karmela Rapata.

It’s an approach that is already making a difference. In 2020, Check In won the People’s Choice Award at the Westpac Otago Business Awards and this year they won the Collaboration and Innovation Award at the KUMA Southern Māori Business Awards.

The Check In team is driven by the desire to benefit the broader community, its interests and their diverse range of visitors. Maria and Karmela also see an opportunity to both address the negative impact of tourism on the environment, people and culture, and to balance our human need for genuine connection with digital solutions.

“Check In honours the sharing of local insights between friends, family and strangers. It echoes the service of an iSite, yet extends to provide a pathway for our community to share and gain access to the visitor economy. From here, we have the opportunity to create a more connected community, and offer a diverse range of products and circular economy opportunities,” said Karmela Rapata.

“Check In is powered by strong local knowledge and even stronger local connections. We’re mindful as we develop that this isn’t solely for Queenstown, that the overall structure is one that can be replicated elsewhere, represented by another community and powered by their people.”

Check In received funding through the NZ Māori Tourism Tāpoi Program, a Puna Pakahi grant from Ngai Tahu, the Queenstown Lakes District Council Covid Support and Tourism Communities Fund, and the Regional Business Partners Network. The team also received support from Startup Queenstown Lakes and the KUMA Southern Māori Business Network.

Acknowledging that building a business can get lonely, Karmela Rapata believes that it’s important to stay connected and to reach out to advisors and mentors to get feedback and help, “The list of people that we’ve been in connection with over the years is enormous. And we remain connected in the business networks to share our story and to get advice.”

When asked if there was anything they would have done differently in getting Check In up and running, Maria Rapata notes, “We spent a lot of time (and money) on the early discovery and development with people outside our community, but we came to a screaming halt because there was a lack of understanding of our home at a community level. Given our very local focus we had to move the project home to Queenstown.

Check In
Check In specialise in creating the best Queenstown experiences on offer. Each experience is crafted to individual needs and wants.

“We were quick to find people who understood our purpose on a personal level because this was their home and community too, and they had the skills to help us move forward. We haven’t looked back, and we do take a few lessons from this: to remain true to your purpose and that Queenstown is jam packed with extraordinary people.”

Later this year, Check In plans to launch their Better Choices Project, which supports their commitment to sustainability and encourages their community and customers to practise better sustainable choices. This project includes sharing their message through ‘welcome packs’ containing keep cups, reusable drink bottles and other items that support the reduction of single use plastics.

The Better Choices Project will also include volunteering events to provide people with an opportunity to give back whilst mingling with locals and promoting the sustainable experiences on offer. Check In will also launch additional digital functionality to encourage genuine connection through local events—from club meetups, to volunteering opportunities, and local-hosted events.

It’s only the beginning, too.

Vanessa van Uden, Director of Check In and former mayor of Queenstown, says that innovation remains at the core of the business.

“We don’t have to wait for the government to define what the future of tourism looks like, we can write it ourselves and take people on the journey.”

Story by Katherine Blaney. In partnership with Startup Queenstown Lakes.

Innovation Nation is a series celebrating stories of innovation and entrepreneurship from around New Zealand.

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