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David Downs goes around the world to see what other markets’ current perceptions of New Zealand can teach us, and identify which of our values we should spotlight in 2022.

There can’t be many bigger learning opportunities for countries than a pandemic. In 2020, New Zealand earned international acclaim for its swift management to keep Covid-19 out by closing our borders. Now, our global counterparts are asking ‘at what cost’?

As the government agency helping businesses tell their story to the world, New Zealand Story late last year released research revealing key shifts in how the country’s trading partners perceive New Zealand in 2021 compared to 12 months prior. It brought into the spotlight some positives, as well as some flags.

The research, conducted by One Picture in August and September 2021, shows New Zealand continued to be perceived as progressive, inclusive and decisive by the majority of key international markets including Australia, China and the US. However, some markets including Germany, Dubai and Japan were forming perceptions that New Zealand was isolated, unfamiliar, unprepared and closed.

I believe there is huge opportunity to leverage the positive attributes the world now sees in New Zealand. Some of these values were evident well before the pandemic, but some have emerged as a result. On the flip side, businesses also need to address and combat some hard truths that emerged in select markets.

Being closed in a pre-vaccine world earned us respect. However, the world has quickly started to re-open, with vaccination rates and re-opening strategies now the new measures of success.

At the time of going to print, the Government had just revealed our border reopening plan – giving New Zealanders, expats, and offshore stakeholders certainty around what to expect in 2022.

We’ve been sharing our research with the business community so exporters can understand the changes in sentiment in our key markets as they plan for 2022.

Here are the key findings:

United Kingdom: For the UK, the strengths of who we are came into sharper focus than the distance of our location. As the UK looked to rebuild its own nation, there was a sense that our size and location had made us an easy country to manage Covid-19, but our approach still stood out as globally more competent.

Australia: Australia had to deal with the resentment of their own loss of freedom, and so New Zealand had become more aspirational. It had moved from a place to visit, to a strong country they admire. As they struggled with their own leadership and Covid-19 response, their respect towards New Zealand, our people and leadership had grown.

US: As they regained confidence, Americans judged success against both protection of people and economic stimulation. They admired us from the outside but questioned New Zealand’s logistical challenges and economic uncertainties related to our closed borders – preferring to see more pragmatism.

Germany: There was a subtle shift from outward to inward that may extend to those close by, but alienate those who are further away. We were perceived as beautiful, friendly, but not open and still too far away, with some questions of our Covid response.

China: China’s confidence in themselves and their government was greater than ever, and they perceived New Zealand as a ‘lesson’ in social equality, inclusiveness and harmony. We were seen as more socially progressive, safe and inclusive than Europe and the US. China looked up to our social structure. We were one of the few Western countries they were looking up to.

Japan: Their confidence in their own nation was severely shaken. New Zealand was admired for its beauty and laid-back nature, but in some ways behind the times. We need to be seen and heard from – they want more than our scenery and negative lockdown connotations.

Dubai: Dubai had great self-confidence in their place and Covid-19 status compared to the world. New Zealand was perceived as a self-contained oasis that needs to be louder and more integrated with the world. The pandemic had reinforced our image as an isolated yet self-sufficient nation, but our approach felt unsustainable in the long run. Our lack of visibility was often pushing us to the ‘back of mind’.

India: India perceived us as a highly desirable place, but often out of reach. While New Zealand displays qualities that make our destination and products desirable, so do most other Western countries. Our challenge is convincing India that we are worth the price premium.

Brazil: Brazilians viewed New Zealand as a small but progressive nation that handled Covid-19 well. Our protection drove admiration, and there is continued respect towards our government and people for putting human lives before the economy.


Time to make our mark

With our borders no longer shut, 2022 is the perfect time for New Zealand’s largest sectors to show the world we’re once again fully open for business. It’s timely to leverage the evidence that the world cares about who we are, how we live, and how we treat others.

To combat any negative perceptions, we need to highlight the positives of our pandemic response, and how that demonstrates the core values others admire in us – our care for people, and our willingness to make tough decisions to do the right thing.

The research highlights the need for New Zealand to share its stories in order to make the country stand out as a trading partner, ensuring New Zealand is front of mind. Tailored messages to international audiences are important, so our country can welcome back tourists, traders and students.

New associations with New Zealand are positive, with consumers noting the qualities of integrity, ingenuity, care and respect that makes New Zealand stand out. The values of community, fairness, and a place for premium products continues to hold true.

As we head into 2022 with a newfound sense of freedom and connection, we’re keen to remind the export sector that New Zealand Story is expanding our consultancy offering. We’re ramping up our support for groups focused on an international audience with insight-led advice, working closely with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, to leverage the positive perceptions consumers and buyers hold of New Zealand.

If you have a business challenge or brief and need some tailored advice, get in touch with Ali Adams, our Consulting Lead.

I wish you a year of vitality. It’s been a tough road to get to 2022, but business now has an undeniable energy to get back to making our mark in the world.


David Downs Pictured below) is CEO of NZ Story.

Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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