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New Zealand participation at World Expo crucial to build 'soft power' globally – Stuff

Shuttering international tourism, with a decrease of almost 20 per cent* in contributions to exports, the pandemic severely impacted New Zealand’s economy. Expo 2020 represented a lifeline to join more than 30,000 businesses in promoting their brands on a global platform.   
While New Zealand’s national borders remained closed to all travellers, the Kiwi pavilion at Expo 2020 hosted more than 1.24 million visitors from March 2021-October 2022. Those who experienced Aotearoa’s immersive storytelling concept at Expo, themed kaitiakitanga or ‘Care for People and Place’, also got to sample exceptional Kiwi cuisine and wine at Tiaki restaurant and enjoy performances from or interact with New Zealand’s leading youth representatives.
Since its inception in 1851, World Expo has continued to be one of the most enduring global mega-events, unrivalled in its scale, duration and visitor numbers. Themed ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’, Dubai’s Expo hosted 192 participating countries and welcomed 24 million visitors over six months, making it the world’s largest gathering since the pandemic started. 
Essentially, Expo 2020 functioned as New Zealand’s ‘shop window’ to the world, says CEO of New Zealand Story, David Downs.
"Expo gave us the opportunity to retain mindshare and brand presence in the world when we couldn’t welcome people here," says Downs. "It’s critical for a small country that we project ourselves globally, showcase our products and services and continue to retain and build New Zealand’s ‘soft power’ (the ability to have an influence).
"It will take time for the trade deals and business transactions to come to fruition, but one very relevant stat is the lift in ‘Net Promotor Score’ (NPS) of people going through the Kiwi pavilion," Downs says. "Before entering, the NPS of people who were asked ‘would you recommend New Zealand’ was -20 (most didn’t know) to +67; that means at least 67 per cent of people marked 9 or 10 out of 10 when they left. This is an amazing increase, influenced by their time in the pavilion."
New Zealand’s innovative architectural design in Expo’s Sustainability District, that told the story of the world-first legal status accorded to the Whanganui River in 2017, resonated with international consumers seeking an authentic story, Downs says. "The experience continued through the events held in the meeting spaces and Tiaki restaurant, which collectively showed New Zealand to be a sophisticated and modern country, with a core set of strong values." 
As a hub for Europe, The Middle East and North Africa, Dame Julie Christie says the scale of Expo 2020’s 438-hectare development on the outskirts of Dubai was "mind-boggling".  
A Steering Group member for New Zealand’s participation at Expo, Christie says the event helped push international perceptions beyond Aotearoa being just a beautiful country to visit. "We moved beyond mountains and lush forests to demonstrate that New Zealand is a great country to partner with, to do business with, because we care. That message got through.
"This Expo was very much about business, rather than past Expos where Aotearoa has concentrated on tourism," Christie says. "That’s why our theme of ‘Care for People and Place’ worked so well, we took inspiration from New Zealand’s indigenous environmental ethos of kaitiakitanga – the connection and responsibility between people and the natural world.  We invested in [new tech] to show that you can innovate while still caring for people and place."
With the pavilion, and the hit that was full-service, 100-seater restaurant Tiaki, Christie says New Zealand punched well above its weight at Expo. "We certainly didn’t have the biggest budget, but we captured people’s hearts with our authentic story, the knowledge of our guides, our hospitality and the amazing food at our restaurant. The Kiwi burger became legendary."   
For the entrepreneurs, performers, chefs and speakers who travelled from New Zealand, Expo was a once-in-a-lifetime event, says Commissioner General for New Zealand at Expo, Clayton Kimpton. "It boosted our reputation as producers of premium quality food and beverage, strengthened people-to-people links and has been a catalyst for future opportunities." 
Outside of the sports arena, Expo represents one of few opportunities for the international community to get together and celebrate our achievements and who we are, he says: 
"New Zealand has a lot to offer, whether it’s our innovation, open-mindedness, diversity, or our ‘Care for People and Place’.  The world can learn a lot from us, and we learn from others too."
As an exporter of produce to more than 120 countries, New Zealand must be present in a competitive global market to stay top of mind, says Kimpton, who upon reflection, considers the biggest achievement over six months of Expo to be how the Kiwi pavilion experience made its 1.24 million visitors feel. "All were welcomed with ‘kia ora’, made to feel part of our story and experienced our incredible cuisine and hospitality. That’s what people will remember."  
Built from scratch in the middle of the desert, Expo 2020 Dubai is transitioning into a sustainable smart city (District 2020) after closing doors on 31 March. 
Find out more about New Zealand’s participation at Expo 2020 Dubai here New Zealand at Expo 2020 Dubai – Care for People and Place or view the NZ Pavilion virtually here nzpavilionvirtualtour.co.nz
*Source: Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA), www.tia.org.nz/about-the-industry/quick-facts-and-figures/ 
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