New Zealand showcases itself at Dubai's World Expo

Today is New Zealand Day at the World Expo in Dubai, which allows us to showcase all we have to offer for business, education, and tourism on the world stage. 

It's four months into the six-month extravaganza and the Kiwi team has already made a big impression.

But our border closures have made us a tricky sell, with the primary question being "When can we come?"

The global expo in Dubai is a pop-up world. In contrast to the real thing, it's a utopia where travel from country to country is unlimited and unrestricted - with no MIQ in sight.

It's hard to know if it's a festival, a trade show, a UN summit, or a theme park. But Expo 2020 is the most significant global gathering since the start of the pandemic. And the scale is mind-bending. 

"It's twice the size of Monaco, the actual site, and for those who don't know the size of Monaco, that's the equivalent of 613 football pitches," says Sconaid McGeachin, Expo 2020 communications vice president.

With 192 countries boasting their best bits for six months, every country is desperate to stand out, which is why every country is also given one day - and one day only - to be the star of the show.

And now it's New Zealand's chance for the spotlight to shine on brand Kiwi.

"We don't want someone to say, 'oh, hobbits', we don't want someone to say, 'how many sheep have you got', because we've got more substance than that," says Clayton Kimpton, Expo 2020 commissioner-general.

With larger-than-life creations courtesy of Weta Workshop, our street art installation, and our restaurants, Aotearoa has already been drawing an impressive, and impressed, crowd.

The expo has had more than 11 million visitors since it opened - and 720,000 of them have stopped by the New Zealand pavilion. 

By the time they walk out, most of them are sold and the real thing and want to go. But the problem is that right now, they can't.

"It's a primary question that we're getting, and we’re saying that after the pandemic, we can't wait to have you come and visit," Kimpton says.

It's cost New Zealand $62 million to be here, but our border restrictions have slashed the tourism benefits. 

"The conversation is really positive, but the reality is at the moment you can't visit New Zealand," Kimpton says.

And Kiwi businesses at the expo are noticing a change in how the world sees us. 

"A lot of people say, 'we'd love to come to New Zealand' but they're also hearing that we're not welcoming and that goes against what we're normally are known for," says Lesley Kennedy, director of OnlyFromNZ.

Expo 2020 might have already proven we're more than just hobbits and sheep, but it's got two months left to convince the world we're open for business - even if our border is closed.