Was NZ’s $60m investment in the Dubai Expo value for money?

As New Zealand dismantles its spectacular pavilion at the Dubai Expo, the number-crunching still to come on the value of the $62 million investment in a global pandemic won’t be a true measure of how vital it was to be there, says Trade Minister Damien O’Connor.

Delayed a year by Covid, Expo2020 Dubai has just ended after half a year hosting 24 million visitors – 1.24 million of whom visited the New Zealand Pavilion. More than 40,000 dined at the hospitality award-winning Tiaki restaurant.

NZ Trade & Enterprise, which was allocated $62m for the project by the Government, told the Herald the project was delivered in full and under budget, but as it was ongoing with the pavilion decommissioning, no final figures were available.

Reports say due to Covid most visitors were from the Middle East.

But O’Connor, who attended, said that was of “huge value” as New Zealand tries to “re-energise” a trade deal with the UAE and its partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

“The emirates has a close connection with New Zealand. It’s an international hub which consumes a large amount of our food exports … it’s a very good investment.

“Like many initiatives in marketing and promotion, you’re never quite sure which part is most effective, but not being part of it meant we would be absent from the world. We had to participate.”

O’Connor said ultimately the Treasury would do a cost-benefit analysis.

“In my view we cannot afford not to be at these big international fora. Countries which consume most of what they produce internally can maybe afford to be absent, but for us as a trading nation, we must be part of the trading fora around the world.”

The pavilion and its NZTE and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade support staff represented New Zealand companies which trade offshore but couldn’t be there due to Covid, O’Connor said.

NZTE said 200 companies took part and 70 exporters travelled to Dubai during the expo.

The Government in 2018 allocated $53.4m for New Zealand’s participation over four years, which included the construction, operation and decommission of the pavilion. Due to Covid it approved additional funding of $7.78m under the Covid Relief Fund appropriation.

Performance measures for the event were identified in 2018 in a business case which included a range of benefits across trade, investment, international education, tourism, international relations and “a perception shift”, said NZTE.

The project had its own board and executive team.

NZTE said a breakdown was not available on how the money was spent because the project was ongoing.

Asked about a cost-benefit analysis, the trade development agency referred to the 2018 performance measures identified, and said benefits would be realised long-term.
They would be measured looking at, for example, the increase in the value of exports to the Gulf council countries and surrounding regions and foreign direct investment.

O’Connor said some of the “resources” originally intended for the project had been trimmed due to Covid.

“We had a unique proposition and building and plan but that did have to be adjusted to the realities of Covid.”

Getting one million people through the pavilion and more than 40,000 diners at the Tiaki restaurant was “a spectacular result in what was a hugely interrupted expo”, he said.

NZTE said the pavilion recorded 83m social media impressions and its net promoter score (NPS), a globally-recognised way of measuring how much people like a product, service or event, lifted 85 points to+67.

With NPS, on a score out of 10, 9-10 is taken as a positive result, 7-8 is passive, and 1-6 is a “detractor”.

NZTE said visitors to the pavilion were asked before they went through “How likely are you to recommend New Zealand?” The pre-score was -18 which meant many more people didn’t know and marked it 6 or below. They were then asked the same question when they left, hence the uplift was 85 to a final +67.

Using special effects underpinning the story of world-first legislation that recognises the Whanganui River as a living whole, the pavilion showcased New Zealand’s environmental guardianship and management and how it is applied across key export sectors.

The Tiaki restaurant profiled New Zealand food and beverage and was recognised at a top Dubai hospitality award.

The New Zealand pavilion also hosted live entertainment, cultural shows, workshops and innovation displays, and was the location for bilateral economic talks.

NZTE said the pavilion was designed with decommissioning in mind. At least 75 per cent of elemental building components would be relocated, repurposed, recycled or returned to the manufacturer. The David Trubridge lighting installation would be returned to New Zealand.

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