The six-week 2011 Rugby World Cup was the biggest event ever held in New Zealand and the country and presented the country’s tourist body (as with all host nations) a unique opportunity to raise New Zealand’s profile on the global stage.
Tourism New Zealand (TNZ) developed a multi-faceted campaign with an objective to ensure that viewers, fans and visitors consider the country as a whole rather than just as a rugby destination. The aim was to encourage, educate and support visitors to maximise their visit and to recommend New Zealand to others when they returned home. TNZ’s strategy – working in tandem with the organisers Rugby New Zealand 2011 and various government agencies – was to create lasting benefits for the country.
The fact that the tournament scheduled a lot of late evening kick offs, to try and boost the heavyweight Northern Hemisphere rugby broadcasters and viewers, meant that there was more time for organisers and sponsors to engage with fans during the pre-match space through experiential and ambient activity.
So experiential was a huge part of TNZ’s plan and, bang on trend, a full on festival was born.
Rugby is an integral part of being a Kiwi, so part of the plan was to turn New Zealand into a non-stop party zone called the REAL New Zealand Festival. This was a nationwide celebration of everything that is New Zealand: including arts, heritage, culture, entertainment, business, food and wine. The festival ran from early September to late October to complement the Rugby World Cup schedule.
From native foods to fine wine, to bungy jumping and canoe racing – visitors were offered the chance to experience something of what it means to be a ‘Kiwi.’ This approach also offered sponsorship opportunities and brand engagement platforms for local businesses and New Zealand’s SMEs (as opposed to most big sporting event fan zones which are typical tied to the exclusive official partnerships dominated by giant global brands.
Festival director Briony Ellis says the festival will include over one thousand events, some which have been moved to coincide with the Rugby World Cup. ‘There’ll be plenty of time between and before matches so we want to encourage people to take the long way around from one match to the next and meet the people,” said Ellis.
Film and comedy festivals, rugby heritage exhibitions, farmers markets and wine tasting events, linked with major cultural events including a Māori Art Market and the Mataatua Iwi Challenge (an authentic Māori challenge series of sports, dance and other cultural activities).
While the REAL New Zealand Festival was a central government initiative, it was largely driven by the regions. RWC games were scheduled for 12 locations, and visiting teams were based in 23 towns and cities – all of which created locally flavoured “home-town” festival events.
For example, Wellington created a rugby village centered around a giant wharewaka (traditional Maori canoe house), while Auckland built a distinctive city centre waterfront development and Queenstown leveraged its status as New Zealand’s adventure capital with typical Kiwi outdoor pastimes in its lakefront fan zone.